MJ: Coach sends strong message
CHAMPAIGN — If you’ve seen Mike Basgier’s jump shot, it’s understandable to be concerned he’s the coach with whom the returning members of the Illinois basketball team have spent the bulk of their time this offseason.
The offseason is more about just dribbling, passing and shooting.
Go back to the national title game between Louisville and Michigan. The physicality matched that of a spring football practice. If Illinois aspires to reach that level, its players have to get stronger.
So forget about Basgier’s jumper. The strength and conditioning coach, who came to Illinois from Ohio with John Groce, has spent the last four weeks whipping players into shape.
“More than anything, we’ve established how hard we were going to work in the room and what was to be expected of the guys,” Basgier said. “We had individual meetings with every guy before the offseason training cycle even started. Every guy we spoke to, we emphasized how important getting stronger was going to be. Establishing verbally that we needed to get better in a certain area is one thing we did early on. After that, we really just hit the ground running.”
After Illinois’ season ended, Groce was frequently asked what the focus on this offseason would be. The majority of the time, he led with making advances in the weightroom.
“The biggest thing for us right now is we’ve got guys who have to get physically stronger. Our numbers aren’t where they need to be, whether that’s lower-body strength, upper-body strength,” Groce said.
Illinois doesn’t take a cookie-cutter approach with its strength and conditioning program. Though Mike LaTulip and Tracy Abrams play similar positions, they’re not necessarily working on the same things in the weightroom. Same goes for Joseph Bertrand and Rayvonte Rice.
“That’s one of the things Mike does a really good job of is working individual guys with their specific goals in mind,” Groce said.
For example, Nnanna Egwu’s goal is to add weight, but it’s got to be the right kind of weight. That means increasing production in the core exercises such as bench press, squat and deadlift.
Myke Henry’s focus has been on improving his body composition. With Rice, who has lost 30 pounds while also dropping a considerable amount of body fat in the last year, the focus is on maintaining the look.
The relationship between Groce and Basgier has developed over the years. They just completed their fourth season working together.
“He’s been with me for so long, and the results have been proven. I let him run with it,” Groce said. “He tells me if we were lifting four times a week or five times or three times and how much of it’s conditioning and how much of it is weightroom and whether it’s small groups or something together as a team. He makes all of those decisions. He has a lot of responsibility, and he’s accountable for the results.”
Said Basgier: “For a basketball coach, it’s kind of scary how much he knows about the weightroom. He can come in now, see a guy doing a movement and he knows exactly how that will translate on the court.”
A challenge Basgier faces each summer is integrating freshmen who have limited experience in a strength and conditioning regimen. In about a month, Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, Austin Colbert and Maverick Morgan will be introduced to Basgier’s approach.
“The important thing with freshmen is to find a balance, and it’s a delicate thing,” Basgier said. “You have to find a balance between teaching them good habits and proper technique while still challenging them and helping them understand they’re in the Big Ten now. Anyone off the street can come in and beat the tar out of a kid; we’re hoping not to do that.”
When the freshmen and newcomers arrive to the weightroom at the Ubben Basketball Complex in June, they’ll work out in a newly remodeled complex. Starting Friday, the room will be gutted and transformed with new equipment.
The process is expected to take about a month. The changes will turn the weightroom from a mid-level sedan into a luxury model.
“We’ve got some pieces of equipment coming in that will allow us to individualize things much more, particularly with the taller guys,” Basgier said. “We have some squat machines coming in that are built for guys who are 7 feet tall, like Nnanna Egwu. Those guys have a hard time with the free-weight stuff.”
Groce pleased with progress
About those jump shots, those are coming along nicely, too.
After spending seven straight days on the road recruiting, Groce kicked back at his desk last week during a brief stop in Champaign before heading back on the road. He perused the shooting numbers of his guys during the four weeks they were permitted to work out following the season.
“Man, these guys just keep getting better,” Groce said. “They’ve been working. (Assistants) Jamall (Walker), Dustin (Ford) and Paris (Parham) have done a great job with these guys.”
With finals set to begin later this week, the coaches’ time with the players ended Wednesday per NCAA rules. While each player might have several areas of his game that need to be addressed, the staff didn’t overwhelm them with all of it during the initial four-week window.
“We kept it real simple; at most, we gave them three things to focus on,” Groce said. “We’re not going to conquer the world in four weeks. We wanted to focus on a few of those things and accentuate those in the drills and workouts. We wanted to attack those hard, and we’ve seen improvement from the guys already.”
Pedon happy to be here
It wasn’t the Big Ten name that drew Ryan Pedon to leave his perch as an assistant coach at Toledo to replace Brandon Miller as Groce’s special assistant.
“If John Groce was the coach at Alaska-Fairbanks and I would have wanted to go, that’s how highly I think of him,” Pedon said. “I’ve known him for a long time; I think the world of him.”
When Miller left to become an assistant at Butler last month, Ford called Pedon, an old friend, and asked if he would be interested in joining the Illinois staff. Pedon was familiar with Groce and other Illinois staffers from their time coaching and recruiting against each other in the Mid-American Conference.
“I admired his program when we competed against him in the MAC. (Groce) was the overriding reason. It wasn’t just because it’s the Big Ten or just because it’s Illinois. That factored to an extent. I have no qualms about saying that,” Pedon said. “I’m not a foolish guy. I’ve been doing this long enough to know who you associate yourself with in our business dictates your success.”
Pedon spent the last three seasons as an assistant at Toledo and the previous five seasons as an assistant at Miami (Ohio). His duties at Illinois will change. He won’t be permitted to recruit off campus or instruct the players on the court.
The primary responsibilities for Pedon, who turns 35 on Friday, will be advanced scouting, scheduling, organizing the summer team camp and the fall coaching clinic.
Pedon’s wife, Stephanie, and their 11-month-old son, Maddox, will join him in Champaign in the next two weeks. The Pedons sold their house in Toledo last week.