Illinois Basketball: How John Groce Can Save the Illini
After taking his Ohio Bobcats to a Sweet 16 this season, John Groce became a household name, and now, just a week later, is set to be named the new Illinois Men's Basketball head coach.
After failing to reel in VCU's Shaka Smart and Butler's Brad Stevens, many feel that the Illini have settled on Groce, and many of their fans and supporters feel that Groce is not the right man for the job.
Despite not having the flair of a Shake Smart or the championship appearances of Stevens, Groce offers a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is regarded as a top recruiter. During his time on Thad Matta's staff at Ohio State, Groce was able to recruit two top prospects in Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr.
The top priority on Groce's list should be getting top prospect and Chicago native Jabari Parker to commit to the Illini. The 6'7" Parker finished his junior season at Chicago's Simeon Career Academy averaging 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.3 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game.
Parker can be looked at as a game changer, not just because of his presence on the court, but because of his ability to lure other recruits to come play with him. Although Parker is expected to be a one and done player, his one season in Champaign could be enough to help Groce's reputation as not only a coach but also as a recruiter.
In addition to recruiting Parker, Groce would be well advised to lure Simeon's head coach Robert Smith to come in as an assistant coach. One of the big knocks on former Illinois coach Bruce Weber was his inability to tap in to the Chicago Public League and its bevy of talent. Adding an assistant like Smith, who has ties to many schools as well as ties to the ever important AAU coaches, can finally help the Illini recruit the Chicagoland area.
To go along with recruiting, Groce needs to be able to hold on to the players he already has. Meyers Leonard is rumored to be on the fence on entering the NBA draft, and if Groce can convince Leonard to stay, as well as help develop Juniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, he greatly increases his chances of landing a guy like Parker.
Reclaiming the position at the top of the Big Ten is going to be a difficult challenge for Groce, but if he is able to bring in Parker, form a strong recruiting relationship within the Chicagoland area and continue to bring the same passion to Illinois as he did to Ohio, Groce can bring the Illini back to the prominence it once had.
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