CHAMPAIGN — Throughout the first two months of his tenure as the Illinois coach, John Groce has talked about “the right fit.”
He said the Illinois job was the right fit for him. It’s how he pieced together his staff and how he described his approach to finding players.
If nothing else, he is sticking to his word. The new Illinois staff decided Class of 2013 point guard Jalen James wasn’t the right fit for the Illini.
James, who committed to Bruce Weber’s staff, is no longer committed to Illinois after the Illini elected to part ways on Wednesday.
“There are no bad feelings at all. If you’ve got questions, it’s better to address them now rather than later,” said Illinois Wolves director Mike Mullins, who coaches James on the club circuit. “Coach Groce and Jamall (Walker) handled the situation forthrightly. Just like he’s picking his own staff, he reserves the right to pick the best players that fit what he wants to do.”
James is a rising senior at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind. He previously attended Chicago Hope and committed to Weber’s staff in June 2011. It was a quick decision that came while James was driving away from campus after receiving a scholarship offer from Weber.
Now, instead of signing a letter of intent with a program that was lukewarm on the commitment, James figures to have options on where he will attend college. SMU, Marquette and Colorado are three schools that inquired about James’ availability.
Illinois Wolves is the state’s most successful club program and has three alums on the Illini’s projected 2012-13 roster. Mullins reiterated the decision won’t affect his program’s longstanding relationship with Illinois.
“Jalen has work to do. He’s improved. But he still has work to do to get to where he needs to be — on the court and in the classroom,” said Mullins. “He knows that. This decision isn’t something that surprised him.”
And Illinois is on the market for a 2013 point guard — one that is deemed to be a better fit for Groce’s style of play.
“I truthfully believe this is a win-win for Jalen and for Illinois,” Mullins said. “It’s neither a negative for coach Groce or for Jalen. We support them and what they’re doing and we’re looking forward to a long relationship with Illinois, just like we’ve always had. We appreciate his honesty and so does the James family.”
Ask beat writer Paul Klee about it here as he'll be chatting Thursday.