John Groce’s Bad Day Still Doesn’t Change Illinois’ Upward TrajectoryPosted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2013
The bad news started early. Quentin Snider changed his mind again, deciding to spurn Illinois and going back to his original verbal pledge to Louisville. This news snowballed on at about 3:15 PM when Cliff Alexander, a potential one-and-done type that could lead a team to the Final Four, decided to leave his home state and go to Kansas instead of the Illini. In a few short hours, Illinois went from having a top five class to one with only one ESPN top 100 recruit (Leron Black). So what I’m advising all the Illini fans out there to do is as follows: Take a deep breath, count to 10, and then hear me out when I say that everything is going to be fine. I’m not just patronizing, I really believe the Illini are a program on the rise with or without Alexander in the fold next season. Here’s why.
If people watched the announcement live on ESPNU like I did, you could see someone who appeared torn up by the decision he was about to make. If Illinois was as close as it was rumored to be, then it shows that Groce is almost ready to kick in the door and end the long trend of top 30 Chicago talents playing elsewhere. He made a distinct impact on Alexander, and for the Illini to get that close when in the past he might not have even considered them, shows Groce is going to get more Chicago elite recruits to stay in state. It’s only a matter of time. He already got a commitment from 2015 wing D.J. Williams from Chicago Simeon High School, and has a chance to add two more from in Jalen Brunson and Charles Matthews. What a miss on Alexander means is that it might be a little bit more of a baby-step progression as opposed to the huge leap that would have happened with Alexander on board. Regardless of today’s results, the program is still in great shape for next year and beyond.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the team is currently playing the 2013-14 season with five freshman who will only get better. That class is blessed with a lot of balance and has already made varying contributions to the squad’s 3-0 start. When you add Black to the mix along with transfers Ahmad Starks, Darius Paul, and Aaron Cosby, you will still see an extremely deep 2014-15 Illinois roster. Next year’s team should be in a position to challenge for the conference title and could very easily make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams, and Nnanna Egwu will all be seniors and when you consider the entire roster of players, you have the makings of a deep, talented, experienced team. True, with Alexander they were a potential national championship team, but even without him, they’re still going to be really good and either way things are looking up. Maybe it looks and feels bad in Champaign today, but don’t lose sight of the fact that Groce is slowly building toward something that can be great down the line. Remember, baby steps.