Evaluating Key Transfers in the Big Ten: Jon Ekey

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 28th, 2013

Transferring to another basketball program required a lot of effort until a few years ago when the NCAA relaxed the rules which resulted in a growing flood of transfers. Even after these changes, few players have an immediate impact on their new teams because they have to learn a new system and establish chemistry with players that have already been playing together for a while. Adapting and shaping a role in the lineup of the new team requires a tremendous amount of maturity. Jon Ekey, a 6’7 senior forward for Illinois, is a perfect example of how a player can insert himself into the rotation by identifying the necessary voids and making an immediate contribution. After transferring from Illinois State, Ekey is averaging 9.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG through 12 games with the Illini. The following are two specific aspects of his game that have helped the Illini during the non-conference season.

Jon Ekey has been the best long-range shooter for the Illini.

Jon Ekey has been the best long-range shooter for the Illini.

  1. Offensive Rebounding: It has been over a year since Meyers Leonard left Illinois for the NBA, but there hasn’t yet been a dominant rebounding forward to fill his shoes. Other than Nnanna Egwu (5.3 RPG), John Groce has not had any forwards who could hold their own on the defensive glass against tough competition. Ekey’s 10.1 percent offensive rebounding rate ranks in the top 10 among Big Ten players, and without his 6.3 RPG this season, the Illini would probably have lost a couple more games so far this season. What’s most impressive about his rebounding ability is his skill at tipping it around in the paint. There is no good statistic to measure tips, but by keeping the ball alive on the offensive end, he provides an opportunity for teammates to pick up loose balls and earn an extra possession. The primary wing players for the Illini – Joseph Bertrand and Rayvonte Rice – average at least 5.0 RPG themselves, which wouldn’t be possible without Ekey’s persistence in keeping the ball alive on the offensive end. Considering that Egwu struggles to stay out of foul trouble, Ekey’s presence on the glass is even more important to keep the Illini from getting dominated underneath. Read the rest of this entry »
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Can Tracy Abrams be the Point Guard John Groce Needs?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 23rd, 2013

Things went well for John Groce in his first year as Illinois’ head coach. The Illini started the season 12-0, won the Maui Invitational for the first time in school history, beat #1 ranked Indiana in thrilling fashion, won an NCAA Tournament game (only their second since 2006), nearly upset #2 seed Miami in the Round of 32, and received commitments from two Top 50 recruits this summer. Groce did an impressive job motivating his team. Consider that the Illini had a 2-7 record in conference play in the beginning of February and closed the regular season 7-4 to make the NCAA tournament. The long term looks good for the Illini too. Groce has secured a top 10 recruiting class and is waiting on an influx of transfers who are scheduled to play next year. But this year, the Illini are expected to take a step back, only returning three players who logged significant minutes from last year’s team. Of these three, junior guard Tracy Abrams, and particularly his ability to play the point more effectively, may be the biggest factor that determines whether the Illini go dancing in consecutive seasons.

Tracy Abrams will need to be more effective in his point guard duties this season for the Illini to get back to the tournament (Eric Gay/AP)

Tracy Abrams will need to be more effective in his point guard duties this season for the Illini to get back to the tournament (Eric Gay/AP)

Last year, Abrams shared ball-handling duties with now-graduated Brandon Paul, and was the Illini’s third leading scorer (10.6 PPG). But Abrams’ grind-it-out style isn’t what Groce would prefer to see in his point guard. The Illinois coach wants to play an up-tempo offense with a point guard who can make smart decisions at different speeds. Abrams, who averaged 3.4 assists per game last season, was second on the team in turnover percentage, averaging 19.4 turnovers for every 100 possessions. He also shot poorly from deep last season (27.2 percent), which hinders Groce’s designed system of opening up the floor. However, what Abrams lacks in natural point guard abilities, he makes up in competitiveness and moxie. He was voted MVP by his veteran teammates at the end of his freshman year because of the effort he displayed throughout the season, and he has shown an ability to step up his game in crucial moments. Last season, he scored 27 points in a win against Auburn when the rest of his team struggled, and he hit a three to seal a win at Minnesota in a pivotal conference game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tyler Griffey Looks Like a Brand New Player In John Groce’s Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 4th, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Illinois head coach John Groce talked at length about instilling confidence into the Illini during the offseason. He talked about pushing the tempo. He talked about making the players tougher specifically during the late stretches of the game. After an 8-0 start, it is very clear that there is a change to these Illini when compared to last season. Winning the Maui Invitational and pulling out gutsy wins against Gardner-Webb and Georgia Tech in Champaign proves that Groce’s coaching style is beginning to work. No other player has benefited the most from the new coaching staff after the first three weeks than senior forward Tyler Griffey. An overall offensive philosophy that includes a reliance on the three-point shot helps Griffey because of his inherent strengths, including great range on his jumper and also the ability to handle the ball in half-court sets. Let’s examine how the new coaching staff has affected Griffey’s performance on the court.

Tyler Griffey has been extremely effective under the new coaching staff in Champaign

  1. Groce won’t bench him for a shooting slump: Griffey likes to shoot and the best shooters always try to shoot their way out of slumps. Confidence is huge for perimeter-oriented players and they shouldn’t be penalized for taking an ill-advised shot once in a while. Groce’s offensive schemes rely on guards who can handle the ball but who also can shoot from multiple spots on the floor. Griffey is no longer afraid to take a good shot and miss because he isn’t looking over his shoulder to the bench hoping that he isn’t pulled from the game. Over the past couple of seasons, if Griffey missed a few consecutive shots, it was likely that ex-coach Bruce Weber would bench him and make him think about those misses for an extended period of time. Sure, Griffey isn’t the greatest defender because he has a tough time against bigger forwards, but his offensive skills can outweigh his defensive drawbacks when he catches fire from beyond the arc. By riding the bench for a while, a shooter’s confidence gets rattled and Griffey felt like he could never get into a consistent rhythm during his first three seasons. But under the new coaching regime, he can afford to miss a couple of wide-open shots here and there before finding his rhythm. A perfect example was his performance in the Gardner-Webb game. A few days beforehand, Griffey was absolutely on fire in Maui as he shot 7-9 from beyond the arc and scored a total of 34 points. During the G-W game, he was 1-7 at one point in the second half, but Groce stuck with him even when the game was down to the wire and it paid off as he drilled a three-pointer to take the lead with two seconds left. Shooting yourself out of a slump and hitting the big shot is just as much of a confidence booster as it is to shoot over 75% during a three night stretch at Maui. Read the rest of this entry »
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