Playing in Big Ten 'a dream' for newest Illini
Ex-Redbird is Groce's second transfer in four days
CHAMPAIGN — One of Illinois coach John Groce's favorite sayings is "Familiarity breeds content." The Illinois coaching staff's familiarity with Jon Ekey was the overriding factor in the 6-foot-7 forward's decision to transfer and play his fifth year for the Illini.
Ekey, who said he was contacted by Purdue, Creighton, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Nevada, among others, was recruited out of Chrisman High in Independence, Mo., by Ohio when Groce was the coach of the Bobcats. Illinois assistant coach Paris Parham was on the Illinois State staff during Ekey's first three seasons with the Redbirds.
"I really liked Coach Groce when he recruited me out of high school, but they were a little too far away from where I wanted to be at the time," Ekey said. "Having Coach Parham there makes it a smooth transition instead of starting from scratch with some other places. Some other schools had called me and I had never talked to any of them before and the situation kind of felt like I was in high school again with meeting all these new guys. With Coach Parham, it was just kind of easier to talk to them and make this decision."
Ekey is the second player to transfer into the Illinois program in the last four days. Former Seton Hall guard Aaron Cosby announced his decision to join the Illini late Friday night. While Cosby, who just completed his sophomore season, will have to sit out the 2013-14 season per NCAA transfer rules, Ekey will be eligible to play immediately. Ekey, a former member of the All-MVC Scholar-Athlete team, is scheduled to graduate with a degree in business administration next month from Illinois State and will pursue a master's degree in sports management at Illinois during his final season of eligibility.
With the move, Illinois still has one scholarship available to use for next season.
Ekey played in all 33 games this past season under first-year coach Dan Muller, starting 18 times. He averaged 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 34.8 percent (31 for 89) from behind the three-point line.
As a sophomore under Tim Jankovic, whose offensive system is similar to Groce's, Ekey averaged 9.0 points and 4.9 rebounds and shot 40.7 percent (59 for 145) from long range while playing in all 35 games with 32 starts.
As a redshirt freshman in 2010-11, Ekey started 25 of 31 games, averaging 4.6 points and 4.0 rebounds. He set the Illinois State school record that season and led the Missouri Valley Conference with 52 blocked shots.
The change in systems from Jankovic to Muller fueled Ekey's decision to transfer. Under Muller, he said he was asked to post up and play more as a true power forward. At Illinois, he'll likely play as a stretch-4, similar to what Tyler Griffey played for the Illini.
"The system (at Illinois State) just didn't fit very well," Ekey said. "Coach Groce wants me to stretch the floor and open it up for the guys to get to the basket and kick it out to me to make some shots."
Ekey will join an Illinois roster thin on shooters with the graduation of Griffey, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, who combined to make 204 three-pointers. Joseph Bertrand's 32.1 percent from behind the three-point line is tops among returning players.
"I can knock down shots, I can also guard anything from a 2 sometimes to a 3 and 4, I've got a good head for the ball defensively," Ekey said. "I can handle the ball a little bit, I'm pretty athletic, I can go up and get some lobs and grab some rebounds, too. I'm looking forward to getting there and helping out. Playing in a Big Ten-type conference has been a dream of mine since I was a kid."