Groce hires Ford, Walker; Howard uncertain

Newly named Illinois coach John Groce announced the additions of assistants Dustin Ford and Jamall Walker to his staff on Monday.

Groce still has one assistant coach slot open, technically Jerrance Howard's spot. Howard, the former Illinois player, has built a solid reputation as a recruiting assistant and he's been the contact for much of the Chicago market.

"My expectation is to have it finished by the end of the week," Groce said. "If everything goes as planned, which usually it doesn't. I've talked with him, met with him, he's obviously done a good job. He cares about Illinois, he's a former player, he takes a lot of pride in it. I'd be foolish not to consider him, and I am considering him. There's no doubt about that.

"I've looked at all candidates that were brought to the table. The biggest challenge when you put together a staff, and sometimes what people forget it is, it's like a team. You don't put a team of 13 point guards together. The same thing with a staff. When I have positions open, there's three assistant coaches, two administrative roles, and then a graduate assistant. You're trying to put six guys together that fit congruently."

Ford and Walker were "no-brainer" hires, Groce said. They both know how he likes to run a program. Both were guards in college, Ford at Ohio and Walker at St. Louis, and do a little bit of everything.

"They are smorgasbord, well-rounded guys," Groce said. "There is not anything that I can give them, that they can't do, and that's a blessing when you're a head coach."

Ford, a point guard, is from a family of coaches. His father Gene is a legendary coach in Ohio high school circles, and his older brother Geno is going into his second season as the head coach at Bradley.

Ford specializes in coaching post players and Walker the guards and wings.

Walker has recruiting ties in St. Louis, Kansas City, Indiana and Chicago, Groce said. Ford can recruit Ohio and has recruited Florida as well.

"When I lay my head down on a pillow at night, I know they're going to do the right thing for our program," Groce said.