Illinois' Groce drops in on area high schools

Illinois coach John Groce and new assistant Isaac Chew made the rounds at Chicago area high schools on Monday and Tuesday.

The coaches hit up Curie, Orr, Proviso East and Whitney Young on Monday. Their first stop was at Simeon on Wednesday, and they planned to visit up to four or five other schools before the day was done.

“It was the first two days I could be out,” Groce said by phone after leaving Simeon. “I wanted to make sure we establish we’re very interested in Chicago and continue to build relationships with people we already know and meeting others we need to get to know better. The state of Illinois is very important to us, and Chicago is a big part of it.”

Groce wasn’t a household name among Chicago area coaches when he was hired last month after leaving Ohio, but he’s found the coaches to be willing to open their doors and listen to what he has to say. Chew, a former Chicago Public League player, also has helped with that.

“They’ve been very receptive,” Groce said. “They’ve been great. Every place we’ve been in has been receptive. I think the biggest thing is everyone likes to be treated with respect and treated like they’re special. We’re going to do that. We truly recognize how important the state is. We’re excited to be out.”

Simeon coach Robert Smith met with Groce and Chew for nearly three hours on Tuesday. Smith said they talked about his current players, which include Illinois targets Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn, and recruiting the state as a whole.

“That’s the best thing to do -- get out and get around and meet people,” Smith said. “We talked about what they’re trying to do down there, players in the state and who I think they need to be looking at. I think it went well. I think he’s headed in the right direction so far.”

Groce has a number of scholarships available in the coming years. He has three spots open in the Illini’s Class of 2012 with Meyers Leonard declaring for the NBA draft early and Crete-Monee senior Michael Orris recently asking for a release from his letter of intent. He also will have three more after next season.

Groce said he was looking into possible fifth-year players, transfers and high school seniors to add to next year’s roster, but he’s also willing to bank the scholarships if he doesn’t find the right players.

“We’re open,” Groce said. “With Meyers going to the draft, if we can find size, but that’s not easy to do on April 17 in the 2012 class. I want to make sure they’re a great fit and not taking a body just because they’re a body.”