Groce: No place like Illinois
CHAMPAIGN — The typically fiery John Groce is walking about with a little extra spark these days.
That was clear Saturday, 24 hours after the Illinois basketball coach watched five-star forward Cliff Alexander fake picking up an Illinois hat before donning a Kansas cap during his recruitment ceremony on ESPNU and committed point guard Quentin Snider sign with Louisville.
“Tracy (Abrams) said this morning, ‘Boy, don’t put Coach up against the wall, man.’ He’s right and those guys have that disposition as well,” Groce said Saturday during a news conference to introduce the 2014 recruiting class that consists of Centennial’s Michael Finke and Memphis (Tenn.) White Station’s Leron Black.
Groce made it clear he wouldn’t be answering questions about any other players besides the duo he signed this week, but Illinois’ second-year coach sent plenty of messages.
“Obviously, we’re here to celebrate the addition of two, not only really good players, but great young men, great families to the Illinois basketball family,” Groce said. “They embody in every way, shape and form as to what we define as an Illini guy. We’re really thrilled to have them join us.”
Groce also took exception to a headline on the back page of Saturday’s Chicago Sun-Times that said Alexander’s hat fake put Illinois college hoops in its place.
“I’m going to tell you what place it’s in: It’s in a great place, that’s what place it’s in,” Groce said.
He highlighted the overachievement of last season’s team, the high academic standing of the university, the five Final Four trips, the State Farm Center renovation and the growth of this season’s team.
“So if anyone wants to know what place Illinois college hoops is in right now, it is in a great place. Not a good place, a great place,” Groce said.
In between talking about the types of players his program was getting with Finke and Black, Groce continued to emphasize the quality of families from which each player comes while going to bat for his program — the program many fans felt was disrespected by Snider and Alexander on Friday.
“What a special opportunity to be at Illinois. I’ve said that over and over again. This is a special place, it is a great place. We have tradition. You can’t fabricate or make up tradition,” Groce said. “We want to get to where we’re more consistent, we know that, you know that. We’re working toward that means. There’s no short cuts involved; we don’t take short cuts. We don’t have excuses; we’re not going to complain about things. Our eyes are focused on where we’re going; we’re locked in on that and just trying to get a little bit better every day and keep nudging that needle in that direction is our total focus.”