Groce on Darius Paul, Stephen Bardo
It's been nine days since Illinois men's basketball player Darius Paul was arrested and charged with resisting an officer and underage drinking and appearing on 87.7-FM The Game's morning show in Chicago with David Haugh and David Kaplan, Illini coach John Groce addressed the issue for the first time.
"These guys are 18- to 22-year-olds, we take a lot of pride in trying to impact their lives. I tell the guys all the time, the greatest gift God gave us was the gift to choose and choose wisely. Obviously, Darius put himself in a situation which was not a great choice," Groce said.
Paul has been suspended indefinitely from the team.
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In the wake of the incident, many have suggested that Paul, a young black man, was a victim of racial profiling by the university police who eventually arrested him.
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"At the same time, I have full confidence in our law enforcement in Champaign in making sure our students and student-athletes safe. I think we're all kind of on the same page," Groce said.
Former Illini Stephen Bardo was among those who questioned why officers were following Paul in the first place. Bardo told The News-Gazette last week that he experienced racial profiling during his time at Illinois in the later 1980s and early 1990s and his son, Stephen Paul Bardo, a UI senior, has also been a victim of it. Bardo said there was overt racism in Champaign-Urbana.
"Obviously, I have a great deal of respect for Stephen and what he achieved at the University of Illinois as a player and as a student. The number of times that he's said to me and expressed to me that he wouldn't be in the situation he's in in his career without that Illinois degree, without the experience he had at the University of Illinois. I really believe he loves the place," Groce said. "There's no one I love in this world I love more than my wife and my two kids. When you have a child, that love you have for the child is like none other. Stephen's own son goes to the University of Illinois. If he didn't feel strongly about the University of Illinois, in terms of an environment where his own son, his own blood, could grow and develop as a person and a student, I'm sure he loves (Stephen Paul) as much as I love Conner and Camden, he probably wouldn't send him there. That tells me we're on track with that.
"Do I think it's an issue? You look at Los Angeles, that's a huge city. Look at the Donald Sterling issue. Do I think that's a fight everywhere that all of us understand to fight for what's right. I applaud the commissioner in the NBA. I think that fight exists globally. It's not an isolated fight by any means. I think we have a great community that's very supportive and on the same page and I have full confidence that those guys are keeping our athletes and students safe and they go about their business professionally. I've been there for two years and I've not seen anything otherwise."
Groce, Illinois football coach Tim Beckman and athletic director Mike Thomas were guests on the Kap and Haugh Show. They are in Chicago ahead of Friday's Illini Day at Wrigley Field for the game between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.