Illini jumping into summer

Illini jumping into summer

CHAMPAIGN — When the Illinois basketball team gets together this week to go through four days of Navy SEAL training, John Groce expects the process to go much smoother than it did the same time a year ago when his Illini went through it for the first time.

With nine brand new faces among the 14 players on the roster last summer and another newcomer in Rayvonte Rice who had never played a game in an Illinois jersey, the first round of SEAL training in 2013 was less than pretty.

“We did it the second week of summer school last year and we had only been together as a group for eight days and it was like ‘Whoa!’ ” Groce said.

The SEAL training is a demanding physical regiment, but teamwork and trust both play as big a part in the exercises as anything else.

All those unfamiliar faces and personalities struggled with that aspect of it.

So at the end of the summer, once the team got more familiar with one another, the Illini went through it again.

“I felt like the second time we did it, guys knew each other,” Groce said. “We connected better.”

With 11 of the 13 players making up the roster returning for the upcoming season, Groce expects he will only have to invite Navy SEAL John McGuire and his crew to campus once to reap the benefits of the exercise.

If the team workouts, which began last week, to this point are any indication, one time is all they’ll need.

“We’re pretty connected so far; we’re much more further advanced than we were at this time last year, which we should be,” Groce said.

Progressing in the area of physical conditioning is an obvious benefit of the training, but it’s that team building that goes a long way in molding the Illini into the cohesive unit Groce expects to have once the season starts in November.

“What we really want to get out of it is communication, understanding that being discipline- and details-oriented affects performance,” Groce said. “(McGuire) is going to bring new things to the table and new ideas because he knows our personnel better, our team better, our personalities better. But I’m looking forward to the challenge and I fully expect us to be better in those leadership areas, those communication areas, the mental aspects than we were last year.”

With freshmen Leron Black and Michael Finke being the lone newcomers to this year’s Illinois team, Groce and his staff have already been able to work at a more rapid rate this summer than their previous two summers at Illinois.

In their first year, all 14 players were new to their system and ideas. Last summer, only five of the 14 knew what was going on.

“(Tuesday) we were able to cover more things in the hour I had with them than at any time last summer because guys just knew stuff right away, they’ve heard this stuff, in some cases, for two years,” Groce said. “We’re able to get through things faster and a little bit better than what we did the first practice or the first workout of the last two summers because they knew. I thought that was really encouraging.”

In terms of the work to be done on the court, it’s no secret Groce wants to make significant strides on the offensive end.

Illinois ranked 11th in the Big Ten in scoring offense (64.2 points), shooting percentage (41.1 percent) and three-point shooting (31.7 percent).

“We’ve got to get more skilled. We’re going to work really hard this summer,” Groce said. “Defensively, that’s always going to be our thing. We’ve got to be consistent with that but we’re working on the consistency and details of some things offensively so we can flow better offensively, pass the ball better, understand all the little things on the offensive end to determine the quality of shot you get. Obviously we’ve got to improve our offensive efficiency next year. At the same time, we’ve got to be able to build on and maintain our defense. Our defense was plenty good enough last year to win against anybody. We’ve got to be better on the offensive end of the floor.”

Cosby thankful for China experience
Not long before he was to leave for China to participate with REACH USA on a basketball tour, Aaron Cosby approached Groce and told the coach he wasn’t sure if he should make the trip.

The Seton Hall transfer was apprehensive because he had never been out of the country, didn’t know the language and didn’t know any of his teammates.

Groce told him all those reasons were exactly why he should go.

After a positive experience playing nine games in 10 days, Cosby returned and thanked Groce for encouraging him to go.

During his year at the UI, in which he sat out to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, Cosby has grown on and off the court.

The trip to China helped.

“Obviously, he’s physically stronger, (and) he’s better than he was when he first got here. Mentally, he’s come a long way,” Groce said. “He’s matured in some areas. He’s still got some areas he’s working on, but I think he’s made a lot of improvement. He’s improved in the weight room, on the court, his maturity level. How he views things outside of himself, I think he’s grown in a lot of those areas.”

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JimOATSfan wrote on June 22, 2014 at 1:06 am

Coach Groce has definitely got Illini Nation primed for improving and exciting men's basketball at Illinois.

Reading the above post, my thoughts went towards making a recommendation to get Bill Walton on campus to talk with the team & staff about practices at UCLA under Coach Wooden.

Besides my one extensive tour of UCLA's Westwood campus with an alumni friend which included Pauley Pavilion and the old 2nd floor gym were all the NCAA Championship teams trained (just when it was being ripped apart for extensive renovations); I really learned all about Coach Wooden from this book:

Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflec… (Hardcover)
by John Wooden, Steve Jamison.  An excellent read it describes how hard Coach Wooden drilled his teams each day so that actual game days were a relaxed walk-in-the-park by comparison. Opponents could not match the offensive execution levels and discipline by which UCLA played. Selfless, untiring and champions (of course available in hardcover or ePub).

Attended an Illinois football game at Memorial Stadium the day Red Grange ran for 5 touchdowns in the "October 18, 1924, game against Michigan. This was the grand opening game for the new Memorial Stadium, built as a memorial to University of Illinois students and alumni who had served in World War I. The Michigan Wolverines were going for the National Championship. Illinois players knew they had a difficult job ahead of them if they expected to win. He returned the opening kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown and scored three more touchdowns on runs of 67, 56 and 44 yards in the first twelve minutes. On his next carry, he ran 56 yards for yet another touchdown. He scored the three touchdowns in less than seven minutes against the powerful Michigan defense. Before the game was over, Grange ran back another kickoff for yet another touchdown. He scored five touchdowns in all. Illinois won the game by a lopsided score of 39 to 14.

The game inspired Grantland Rice to write the following poetic description:

    A streak of fire, a breath of flame
    Eluding all who reach and clutch;
    A gray ghost thrown into the game
    That rival hands may never touch;
    A rubber bounding, blasting soul
    Whose destination is the goal — Red Grange of Illinois!"

    Source: Wikipedia

    Coach Wooden was born in Hall, Indiana (Coach Groce was born in Indiana).

    Coach Wooden played in the Big Ten at Purdue. "John Wooden was named All-Big Ten and All-Midwestern (1930–32) while at Purdue, and he was the first player ever to be named a three-time consensus All-American...Wooden was nicknamed "The Indiana Rubber Man" for his suicidal dives on the hardcourt. He graduated from Purdue in 1932 with a degree in English."  Source: Wikipedia

    Coach Wooden won 10 NCAA Championships in 12 seasons!

    An Illinois basketball coach replaced Wooden after retirement: Gene Bartow.

"Wooden's immediate successor at UCLA, Gene Bartow, went 28–5 in 1976, but was blown out twice that season by the eventual national champions Indiana, the second time in the '76 Final Four, and lost 76–75 in the 1977 West Region semi-finals to Idaho State. Bartow won 85.2% of his games (compared to Wooden's 80.8%) in two years, yet supposedly received death threats from unsatisfied UCLA fans." SOURCE: Wikipedia

    These links between Illinois, Coach Wooden and UCLA can be further strengthened by inviting Bill Walton onto campus to educate and inspire the current Illini. Coach Wooden would have approved.

    "Walton achieved superstardom playing for John Wooden's powerhouse UCLA Bruins in the early '70s, winning three successive College Player of the Year Awards, while leading the Bruins to two Division I national titles. He then went on to have a prominent career in the National Basketball Association (NBA) where he was a league Most Valuable Player (MVP) and won two NBA championships." SOURCE: Wikipedia

PS: Get Bill to spend a day in the gym with our Big Men.


billbtri5 wrote on June 22, 2014 at 8:06 am

go for it coach....