John Groce: Pushing Illinois in the Right Direction

John Groce enters his second season as the head coach of the Fighting Illini.

Once Bruce Weber got the boot in 2012, John Groce was hired as head coach at The University of Illinois after his prolific run with Ohio to that year's Sweet 16. Many Illini fans were happy to see change, but were still skeptical about where Groce would take the program when it came to recruiting. As of now, he seems to be doing a pretty good job.

In his first year, he led the team to a 23-13 overall record and helped them advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He had to work with what he was given and he pleased many more Illini faithful than he upset. 

This season will be somewhat interesting as Groce will have to manage the departure of two veteran guards in Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. He will have to implement his coaching style with a less experienced group. Although, in just his first year he accomplished soemthing that eventually led to Bruce Weber's departure the previous season. He landed two solid recruits from the Chicago area. Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate are both incoming freshmen guards from Simeon High School in Chicago. They have played alongside the likes of top recruit Jabari Parker for several years and they look to take that experience with them to Champaign. The 2013 squad will be young and less knowledgeable than in years past, but that gives players like Tate and Nunn more chances to shine on big stages right away.

The big story though has been the recruiting that Groce has done with the 2014 class. He has addressed the issues and needs for his roster and so far has done a great job at fulfilling those needs. For the 2014-2015 season Illinois will need more presence in the front court. Groce roped in Leron Black and Michael Finke, the number six and number 29 power forwards in the nation respectively according to ESPN.

His other necessity was a top-tier point guard who would be able to make an instant difference as a freshmen. He did everything he could and he finally got Quentin Snider, a point guard from Louisville. Snider is the number seven point guard in the country according to ESPN and the biggest committment so far for the Illini this year. Snider's impact is sure to be immediate and has given Groce even more recruiting credibility.

Yesterday, the country's number two player overall, Cliff Alexander, narrowed his list of potential schools to six. Illinois was one of those final schools. Alexander is a power forward who attends Curie High School in Chicago and his potential is limitless at the moment. His floor presence is so great, any team that lands him will immediately have significantly better chances at winning The Big Dance. Alexander's list contains several other very established programs, but if Illinois were to get a player like him, the praise for coach Groce would go through the roof.

All of this remains to be seen. As we all know, nothing is for sure in college basketball. At the moment John Groce has done a tremendous job at recruiting for the future. He certainly has Fighting Illini fans holding their heads high and looking in the right direction.