Illinois coach John Groce said Friday he doesn’t plan on minimizing his recruiting expectations or have a patient approach when it comes to rebuilding the Illini program just because he’s in his first season.
Groce, who was hired in March to replace former Illinois coach Bruce Weber, secured two transfers (Sam McLaurin from Coastal Carolina and Rayvonte Rice from Drake) in his 2012 class and already has two commitments (center Maverick Morgan and shooting guard Malcolm Hill) in his 2013 class.
Groce will hit the recruiting trail again next week when the July recruiting period begins on July 11. He will be looking to fill three more spots in the 2013 class and as he described “put the hammer down” on the 2014 and 2015 classes.
“From the standpoint, we came here to put us in the best position to get this thing done as quickly as possible,” Groce said by phone on Friday. “I’m not really a patient guy. I didn’t come into this position thinking this is going to take us this long. That’s not my mindset.
“For us, it’s matter of getting the right guys to fit the way we play, to fit what we’re about on and off the court. We’re looking for good fits and good players. I anticipate to move forward with the last three spots we have remaining (in 2013.) I’m not letting us settle saying, ‘Hey, we got the job in April.’ Our staff has done a great job. We’re working at it and grinding it.”
Groce said one of the priorities for the recruiting class will be a point guard. Tracy Abrams, who will be a sophomore, is the lone point guard on the current roster. Weber had secured commitments from Class of 2012 point guard Michael Orris and Class of 2013 point guard Jalen James, but both players decided to go difference directions.
“Tracy is going to be a big part to what we do,” Groce said. “He is. When you look at the roster, he’s the only point guard on our roster. We need one. We’re going to do our very best to find a point guard who fits our style of play, how we attack and how aggressive we are.
“The thing I’ve learned is you can try to put guys in situations and try to teach them decision-making. The guys I’ve had that were the best at decision-making, at different speeds and gears, ability to make guys better and connect guys, that’s almost a trait you have before you arrive. You think about D.J. Cooper (who he coached at Ohio), Mike Conley (who he coached at Ohio State), you put them in any situation and you can’t speed them up. They were going to play at their own pace no matter what you did.”
Groce said the Illini started behind the ball in recruiting the elite players in the 2013 class because they’ve had less time to develop relationships, but he did believe the Illini were progressing in their pursuits.
“I think it’s not easy, but we’ve made up a lot of ground,” Groce said. “I think we’re grinding it out. We’ve developed some relationships and continue to work on some and make some we’ve had prior even better. We’re worked at really hard, put us in the position we’re in the game, but it’s not easy. When you have the change you just had, it’s not easy. As my dad said, everything worthwhile in life isn’t easy. It’s a challenge.”
Groce was hopeful the addition of assistant coach Paris Parham, a Chicago native and former Illinois State assistant coach, would help the Illini’s recruiting in Chicago. Parham replaced Isaac Chew, who left Illinois for Marquette. Illinois assistant Jamall Walker also has Chicago recruiting ties.
“Jamall has done an excellent job,” Groce said. “We’ve been in Chicago as a staff at Ohio. We’ve been there before we hired Paris. He adds another level. He’s from there. He has connections and relationships there. People will embrace him because he’s one of theirs. We’re going to continue to build relationships, and Paris is going to help us in that.”