CHAMPAIGN – New head coach, new staff.
And a change of basketball scenery for Jerrance Howard.
Howard, the former Illinois player who recently completed his fifth season as an assistant coach, won't be on the new staff under head coach John Groce.
Groce and Howard met late Monday night and the decision to not retain Howard was finalized.
“Meeting with him, it was hard now. He loves this place," Groce said. "He played here. He's coached here. And that made it a little unique and different. His wife (Jessica) went to school here. So I had to take all of that into consideration. That's part of the reason it's taken me some time to make that decision. He was a very viable candidate.
“But at the end of the day, for me, the thing I was most comfortable with was starting with that clean slate. It's nothing against Jerrance. He's done a good job. I know he's going to do well regardless of where his life heads from here.”
Howard said Tuesday he has no ill feelings about the move. He simply was ready to know for certain and move forward with his career.
Given his recruiting successes, the 31-year-old Howard figures to have options as he pursues his next stop. There is a distinct possibility Howard will reunite with Bruce Weber at Kansas State.
Groce said he hopes to finalize his staff by Friday. The final pieces likely will be coaches that know Groce or have worked with him at past stops. Dustin Ford and Jamall Walker, who came with Groce from Ohio University, were hired last week as assistants.
Groce reiterated that completing his staff is about “finding the right fit” and that another assistant with a history of “player development” would be a priority. That is a strongsuit of Ford and Walker.
The Illinois staff is at work recruiting, as well. Illinois commitment Jalen James said Tuesday he is scheduled to be on campus for an unofficial visit Saturday. And Groce said the staff is actively pursuing high school prospects for the 2012 recruiting class. Crete-Monee senior Michael Orris currently is the only 2012 prospect signed to Illinois. Groce also said he is open to accepting a transfer if it is the right fit.
"I think everybody's in play right now, especially on that (frontcourt)," Groce said.