Basketball media day: What we learned

Basketball media day: What we learned

We let beat writer Marcus Jackson loose at Thursday’s Big Ten festivities in Rosemont. Here’s what he learned:

The common thread among the 12 Big Ten coaches at the Hyatt Regency was this: The Big Ten is loaded. And it wasn’t just lip service. They really feel this league is as good as it’s been in a long time. First-year Nebraska coach Tim Miles — who stole the show with a remarkable sense of humor he will certainly need when February rolls around — might have summed it up best when asked about the strength of Jim Delany’s conference: “You mean the three (teams) that are in the top five in the country or the ones after that that are only in the top 20? It’s a great league.” Indiana was picked to win the conference, followed by Michigan and Ohio State. This from Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, the dean of Big Ten coaches whose team tied for the title in ‘12: “In our league, there’s 10 very, very good teams. I could see team eight or nine winning the league. We weren’t supposed to be so good last year, there’s just not enough difference between the teams.”

Indiana, No. 1 in the coaches’ poll, figures to be No. 1 in the AP poll when it’s released today. Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and coach Tom Crean were the main attractions, entertaining a throng of reporters for the duration of the two-hour open session Thursday. “The target of being an Indiana Hoosier has never changed,” Crean said. “Indiana is synonymous throughout the country for being a lot of things in basketball and it was always a big deal when you were playing Indiana or Indiana was coming to town and that hasn’t changed.” Crean took over for the disgraced Kelvin Sampson and won six, 10 and 12 games in his first three seasons before breaking through for 27 last year. “It’s really big and what’s made it even bigger is the guys on the team are guys that Indiana fans relate with,” said ESPN’s Dan Dakich, a former Hoosier player and coach. “A kid like Yogi Ferrell, they’ve been watching him grow up, playing in state championship games. Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls playing in the championship game in Indiana. (Christian) Watford, (Victor) Oladipo has captured people’s imagination because of his personality. That more than anything else has connected this particular group of kids with the fan base and it’s made them really popular.”

After Indiana, the most popular figure was first-year Illinois coach John Groce, who was late to the open portion of the media gathering because he was doing spots with the BTN, Sirius XM radio, ESPN and other national outlets. At his table, he was answering questions to a full house for the duration of the event. “John has a big personality, he’s certainly high energy, he’s basketball all the time,” Dakich said. “In terms of coaching, he’s shown what he can do. I think that he’s absolutely the guy for them.” This was Groce’s first Big Ten media day as a head coach, but the 41-year-old is no stranger to the league, having spent four years on Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State. “He’s a guy that No. 1 has the passion to teach and coach the game of basketball,” Matta said. “He has energy, he understands the game and he’s proven in terms of what he’s done at Ohio University. In talking with John, he has a great passion for the University of Illinois, which I think makes a huge impact from Day One. I know he feels the need to do his best there and it’s obviously year in and year out a traditional powerhouse. He’s accepting that challenge and I think Illinois fans will be happy with him.”

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
PortlandIllini wrote on October 25, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I ran into Coach Groce at the Starbucks on Green Street in Champaign last month,  and I have to say that he comes across as smart , driven,  articulate and socially astute.    The last Illini coach that I met who impressed me like this was named Self.     I think that we will all be extremely happy with Coach Groce in about three years.