John Groce’s Illini Simply Can’t Catch a Break

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 3rd, 2015

Everyone has had one of those days where NOTHING goes right. You wake up late and burn the coffee, only to realize there isn’t enough time to make another pot. You try to brush your teeth but forgot you threw out your toothbrush last night, so you have to use your finger. You leave the lunch you made the night before in your fridge. This and more, all before 9:00 AM.

John Groce has had a rough offseason; exactly when he needed a break or two.

At a time when he needed a break or two, John Groce has had a rough off-season.

For Illinois head coach John Groce, this kind of bad day must have felt like it lasted for the entire offseason. Now entering his fourth season as the Illinois head coach, the 44-year old is at a breaking point in his tenure. The Illini have missed two consecutive NCAA Tournaments and are an uninspiring 24-30 in conference play over the same span. Memories of the excitement of his first season in Champaign are long gone; in those days, the Illini were a play or two away from the Sweet Sixteen and in the mix to land a few different blue-chip recruits. But monumental setbacks this offseason both within and outside his basketball program have the likelihood of a comeback campaign feeling quite remote. The head coach needs to coax some signs of life out of his program soon in order to rally the troops.

The list of mini-crises that have adversely affected the Illinois basketball program is long; here are a few of the lowlights:

  1. Football and women’s basketball scandals. The revelation that Illini football coach Tim Beckman was a real life Bud Kilmer — and appropriately fired one week before the start of the season — summoned a dark cloud over the entire athletic program. Ultimately, a different investigation found no wrongdoing into claims of racial discrimination against the women’s basketball coaching staff, but the public relations damage had already been done. These external distractions do not create an environment for the kind of administrative “support” the head basketball coach needs coming into a make-or-break season.
  2. Darius Paul’s dismissal. The first big hit to the basketball team came in August, when junior big man Darius Paul was arrested following an incident involving alcohol for the second time in his Illini career. Paul, who had transferred from Western Michigan two years ago, spent all of last season playing in junior college and attending John Lucas’ treatment program after his first arrest and subsequent suspension. When it was all said and done, Paul had used three years of a scholarship and didn’t play a single official minute of basketball for the Illini. An already unproven frontcourt now has even more question marks heading into this season.
  3. Injuries galore. The next blow came a month later, when Tracy Abrams suffered a season-ending injury before the first game for a second consecutive season — the redshirt senior tore his Achilles tendon in his left foot during practice. This injury leaves the Illini without their talented starting point guard (and undisputed team leader) yet again. Kendrick Nunn, one of only two returning double-figure scorers, is out for eight weeks from a thumb injury that required surgery. Sophomore sparkplug Leron Black will miss four to six weeks with a torn right meniscus, thinning that already shallow frontcourt. And Illinois’ top incoming recruit, four-star combo guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, has also been out for most of summer with a stress fracture in his left leg. Illinois is LIMPING into the start of the season.

    Illinois fans have had a rough go of it lately. (US Presswire)

    Illinois fans have had a rough go of it lately. (US Presswire)

  4. Down recruiting. After two years of middling results on the court, the Illinois coaching staff is also finding the recruiting trails a bit tougher to navigate. Groce once competed with schools like Kansas, UCLA, Louisville and Syracuse for recruits; now he is battling schools like Drake and Old Dominion. Illini fans were especially disheartened when three-star forward Xavier Sneed, in an ironic twist, committed to Groce’s predecessor Bruce Weber at Kansas State. As you recall, Weber’s primary undoing in Champaign was his inability to recruit at the highest level.

Long-suffering Illinois fans are, by now, highly-trained pessimists. The historically bad football program, a recently mediocre basketball era, and sheer incompetence from the school’s bureaucracy has given alumni little to cheer about. But even the most negative of Illini fans couldn’t have expected the unfortunate chain of events that has occurred during this offseason. It must be especially disappointing for Groce that, when he most needed a lifeline, he has instead gotten more anchors attached to him. Time will only tell how he responds to those weights.

Alex Moscoso (170 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *