CHAMPAIGN — John Groce has been a busy man since being hired at Illinois in March. The first-year UI coach has been to every corner of the state visiting with fans, alumni donors and media. He’s recruited the country. And he’s worked to help the Illinois players make the transition from the previous regime to his.
Still, he’s not the busiest person in his own house. That’s his wife, Allison.
She oversaw the family’s move from Athens, Ohio, to Champaign. She unpacked the house while keeping up with the couple’s two sons, Conner, 6, and Camden, 3.
“She’s a godsend, and I should give her a lot of credit. At this point, seven, eight months, I haven’t helped her a whole lot,” Groce said.
Groce expects many family and friends in attendance Friday, when the Illini host Colgate in his debut. Just don’t ask him how many tickets are being reserved for his party.
“My wife controls the tickets, so if you want any you’ve got to go through her. She takes that off my plate,” he said. “She helps make my job a lot easier, that’s for sure.”
The last nine Illinois coaches have won their debut game.
“It’s amazing that the seven, eight months have passed by this fast,” Groce said. “It’s finally here. It’s an exciting time of year, and I’m happy for our guys; they’ve worked really hard. They had a great spring, a great summer, great fall. I really appreciate their buy-in and acceptance of the new staff and our system.”
Colbert decision on hold. Austin Colbert, a 6-foot-9 forward from Gladstone, N.J., who was expected to choose between Illinois, Seton Hall and Villanova, decided against making an announcement Wednesday.
The three-star recruit, who turned 18 Wednesday, said he was not yet ready to make his decision. The early signing period starts Nov. 14.
No pressure, Coach
John Groce on Friday will try to avoid becoming the first coach to lose his Illinois debut since Frank Winters’ Illini took a message-board beating after stumbling against Millikin 29-24 in 1920. The next nine Illinois coaches fared better:
Craig Ruby 1922
— Wally Roettger’s eight points helped beat Washington U. 29-14
Doug Mills 1936
— Carroll had no answer for Lou Boudreau (18 points) in a 51-34 defeat
Harry Combes 1947
— 67-27 win against Coe was the first of 20 straight season-opening wins by Champaign High legend
Harv Schmidt 1967
— Can’t imagine today’s Illini having guts to open at Butler (Dave Scholz’s 37 sparked 75-57 win)
Gene Bartow 1974
— Opening win (69-58 vs. Valpo) in an otherwise-drab one-year stint (8-18)
Lou Henson 1975
— Rich Adams scored 16 of Illini’s final 20 points in 60-58 thriller at Nebraska
Lon Kruger 1996
— Pressure was on in 68-63 win at UIC, where Henson assistant Jimmy Collins had the Pavilion fired up
Bill Self 2000
— Ranked No. 8 to start season — Illini’s highest since 1990 — and showed why in 86-57 rout of Maine
Bruce Weber 2003
— Like Combes, Bartow and Self, he never lost an opener at Illinois, including No. 1 (94-66 vs. Western Illinois)