PARIS, ILL. —
John Groce took time from a busy schedule as men’s basketball coach at the University of Illinois on Tuesday to speak to more than 100 fans.
Groce comes to Illinois from Ohio University, where two of his four teams were in the NCAA Tournament. The Bobcats made it to the Sweet 16 last season with upsets over No. 4 seed Florida and No. 12 South Florida before losing to top seed North Carolina in overtime.
The Illini and other teams begin practice Friday and fans will have a chance to see the first Groce team in an Orange and Blue Scrimmage.
“It’s been a whirlwind the past six months,” said the coach.
He said he has three objectives for the players going into his first season.
• Develop togetherness and toughness.
“We don’t want anyone to steal your mind. We’re not quite there yet on that. Lots of people are involved in basketball. It takes all of them pulling in the same direction,” he said.
• Develop a defensive mindset.
He said Illinois allowed opponents to shoot 39 percent from 3-point range last season, fifth worst in the country and worst in the Big Ten.
“We’ll tackle guys before we let teams shoot [that] again. It takes unselfishness on defense as much as it is needed on offense. You have to trust others to make the right decisions,” said Groce.
• Develop a mindset to expect to get better each day.
“Every day, every game matters. We’ll approach each game the same way, that each possession matters. Our players need to ask what they did with their day. They’ll never get it back,” said the coach.
He said the Illini will play a different style of basketball this season. “We’ll be up-tempo, not reckless. I hate slow basketball. We expect to be at our best in February,” he said.
Someone noted that the Illini did not shoot many free throws last season. “Part of that is love of the jump shot. Our style of play will put us in a position to shoot free throws. We will constantly attack off the dribble,” said Groce.
He cited three statistics that indicate success in what needs to be done:
(1) assist-to-turnover ratio;
(2) free-throw attempts, and
(3) offensive rebounding percentage.
“Last year’s team had more turnovers than assists. Ball handling will be a key for us,” he said.
Referring to a philosophy espoused by John Wooden, he said, “If all you think about is win, win, win, you forget the journey and the process.”
He said his first team has built a solid foundation in academics and credited the previous staff for it. “That’s good for me. I can concentrate on coaching and not worry about other things,” said Groce.
Three new players are on the U of I roster. One is 6-foot-8 Sam McLaurin, a graduate student who came from Coastal Carolina.
“Dan has done more than any other player since I have been here. He always puts in extra time,” said Groce.
He has been busy recruiting since taking the job and outlined what he considers in recruiting players.
(1) Does he fit our style of play?
(2) Does he value his education?
(3) Is he passionate about the game?
(5) Team attitude, and
(6) Does he come from a winning background?
“I am excited about the challenge. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” said Groce.
His appearance at Malfunction Junction north of Paris was sponsored by the Edgar County Foundation with all proceeds going to their projects including scholarships for Edgar County students.
Hoosier ties — Groce was born in Indiana and got his first coaching job at Taylor, his alma mater where he played three years.
Prior to being named the coach at Ohio, he was on Thad Matta’s staff — one year at Butler, three at Xavier and five at Ohio State.
Asked to name the best team he coached against, he cited the 2006 and 2007 Florida teams.
“I was at Ohio State then. They won a championship and all the players — most of them pro prospects — were back the following year,” he noted.
Tom Reck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (812) 232-3231.