by Tyler Mills
John Groce is moving on up in the world of college coaching. The fact that Groce is reportedly about to land the head coaching job for the University of Illinois men’s basketball team is a sign of how important recruiting is for the alumni. A number of people who were close to the situation were constantly upset about how former Illinois head coach Bruce Weber could not recruit top talent from the Chicagoland area to the school. The fact that Kelvin Sampson was able to get guard Eric Gordon to play for Indiana University after Weber received a verbal commitment from Gordon is something that still bothers Fighting Illini fans to this day. Gordon now plays for the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA and is considered to be a top-notch talent when healthy.
It was disappointing many Illinois fans that Shaka Smart said no to the concept of leaving Virginia Commonwealth University for the University of Illinois. As a matter of personal opinion I was not convinced that Shaka Smart really had more ties to the best basketball players in the Midwest than John Groce. Evan Turner of the Philadelphia 76ers who comes from the Chicago area spoke very highly of John Groce. Groce was a big force in recruiting Turner to Ohio State. Thad Matta, the current head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes probably owes John Groce a fair amount of credit for Greg Oden coming to Columbus and the team being able to make a run all of the way to the NCAA Championship Game against the Florida Gators.
Groce has also been an assistant at both Butler and Xavier with Matta so you have to think that he would be able to potentially woo some transfers from the “mid major level” if he felt that Illinois needed a quick fix in order to get back to national prominence.
Jim Groce should be given time to build the program, a lot of the criticism associated with Bruce Weber was that he lived of the success and the recruit that Bill Self brought to the program (Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head etc) and never was able to gain respect of a lot of the Chicago prep coaches who certainly would be able to help Weber land the players that he needed to win a lot of games.
A lot of people who look at the game of college basketball may also be souring on the Big Ten as a whole. A lot of people out there may not like the physical style of many of the Big Ten teams and simply think that a more free flowing style of basketball is what a team needs in order to be able to win championships. Bruce Weber’s teams at Illinois were not able to bring that toughness or that free flowing style after the Dee Brown and Deron Williams years. The new athletic director Mike Thomas also noted a drop off in attendance when he announced the firing of Bruce Weber, a lack of enthusiasm surrounding a program can be the last straw for an embattled head coach.
Author Bio: Tyler Mills is a former college student looking for a positive way to inform people and make some money to pay living expenses. He also covers sports and Iowa news for the De Moines Free Press.