Groce is starting to feel the (sun) burn

By MARCUS JACKSON

HONOLULU ­— John Groce’s fair skin doesn’t deal well with extreme amounts of sun. So while his and the other coaches’ wives soak up the rays in paradise, Groce and the Illini have spent the bulk of their time in the gym and the film room.

“We’ve got a little bit bigger fish to fry right now,” Illinois’ first-year coach said Wednesday. “Plus, I’m not necessarily a sun worshipper. I get crushed by the rays, so I’m usually operating with SPF 75 or higher most of the time. I’m taking it in small doses.”

The Illini did get away from the business of their trip for a while Wednesday morning, visiting Pearl Harbor.

“Very appropriate during Veterans Day week,” Groce said. “I think it really put some things in perspective for our guys.”

The Illini practiced Wednesday afternoon in preparation for Friday’s game at Hawaii (11:30 p.m. C-U time, WDWS 1400-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM), and they did so without assistant coach Jamall Walker, who did not make the trip with the team.

Walker’s wife, Rebekah, was expected to give birth to a son this week.

“Fortunately, the NCAA has a rule where you can take a guy off the road in an emergency situation as Jamall has,” Groce said. “We’re big into family. It’s important that he stays home with his wife, and it’s an exciting time as their little boy is on the way.”

In Walker’s absence, special assistant to the head coach Brandon Miller will serve as Illinois’ third assistant coach along with Dustin Ford and Paris Parham. Miller was an assistant at Butler in 2008 and spent three seasons on Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State from 2009 to ’11.

“Obviously, he has great experience. We’ve got to keep this thing moving forward, and Brandon will be able to help with that,” Groce said.

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