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THE DAILY ILLINI

BASKETBALL SHOWCASE TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2013

CHICAGO IS IN THE BUILDING With prized Simeon recruits, Illinois has re-established itself in Chicago — PG. 5

GROCE ENTERS 2ND SEASON AT HELM After hitting the reset button, the John Groce Era is in full swing at Illinois — PG. 6

EGWU, ABRAMS & BERTRAND RETURN With Paul and Richardson gone, Illini must find new leadership — PG. 4


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

2

The Daily Illini  |  www.DailyIllini.com

2013-14 roster 2

Joseph Bertrand

33

jon Ekey

Year Senior postion Guard Hometown Sterling, Ill. last school Sterling height 6-foot-6 weight 200 pounds

Year Senior postion Forward Hometown Independence, Mo. last school Illinois State height 6-foot-7 weight 225 pounds

24

10

rayvonte rice

mike latulip

Year Junior postion Guard Hometown Champaign last school Drake height 6-foot-4 weight 235 pounds

Year Sophomore postion Guard Hometown Arlington Heights, Ill. last school Prospect height 6-foot-1 weight 170 pounds

22

25

Maverick Morgan

Year Freshman postion Center Hometown Springboro, Ohio last school Springboro height 6-foot-10 weight 250 pounds

Kendrick nunn

Year Freshman postion Guard Hometown Chicago last school Simeon height 6-foot-3 weight 180 pounds


The Daily Illini  |  www.DailyIllini.com

13

Tracy Abrams

Year Junior postion Center Hometown Chicago last school St. Ignatius height 6-foot-11 weight 250 pounds

31

21

1

Austin colbert

jaylon tate

Starter Tracy abrams

sf

Year Freshman postion Guard Hometown Belleville, Ill. last school Belleville East height 6-foot-6 weight 210 pounds

33 | AHMAD STARKS Year Senior postion G Hometown Chicago

PF

last school Oregon State height 5-foot-9 weight 170 pounds

11 | aaron cosby Year Junior postion G Hometown Louisville, Ky.

Illinois projected depth chart sg

malcolm hill

Transfer Players (eligible in 2014-15)

Year Freshman postion Guard Hometown Chicago last school Simeon height 6-foot-3 weight 160 pounds

Pg

32

NNanna egwu

Year Junior postion Guard Hometown Chicago last school Mount Carmel height 6-foot-2 weight 190 pounds

Year Freshman postion Forward Hometown Chesapeake, Va. last school Gill St. Bernard’s height 6-foot-9 weight 210 pounds

position

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

3

C

Rayvonte rice

joseph bertrand

jon ekey

Nnanna Egwu

2nd string

jaylon tate

Kendrick nunn

rayvonte rice

malcom hill

Maverick morgan

3rd string

mike latulip

malcolm hill

malcom hill

austin colbert

austin colbert

potraits by brenton tse the daily illini

last school Seton Hall height 6-foot-3 weight 195 pounds

35 | Darius paul Year Sophomore postion F Hometown Gurnee, Ill.

last school Western Michigan height 6-foot-8 weight 220 pounds


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Daily Illini  |  www.DailyIllini.com

4

Bertrand, Egwu, Abrams welcome 9 new Illini BY SEAN HAMMOND SENIOR WRITER

portraits of Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu and Joseph Bertrand by brenton tse the daily illini

MINUTES

REBOUNDS

3-POINTS

446

1,575

769

228

341

517

39.7%

FIELD GOALS

890

52

4,447

36.7%

POINTS

2,778

36.1%

Sean can be reached at sphammo2@ dailyillini.com and @sean_hammond.

What returns for the Illinois men’s basketball team? The Illinois men’s basketball team returns just three scholarship players and limited production from last year’s squad. With eight departures, the Illini have many holes to fill.

38.4%

Bertrand said being more outspoken is not an adjustment for him. Groce might disagree, but Bertrand says it’s not a problem. Abrams will admit that it’s weird being one of the older guys on the team. But he knows there are more expectations on him. He’s ready for them. “I’ve just got to embrace that role,” Abrams said. “I’m an older guy, I’ve just got to do what I can do to help the younger guys.” For Bertrand, it’s about teaching the younger guys what it means to put on the orange and blue uniform. “It’s playing hard all the time and showing them what it means to play at Illinois,” Bertrand said. “How much responsibility that is. They’re really catching on to that. It’s really showing from the progress they’ve made.” Egwu likes how coachable the young freshman unit is. The group learned quickly and extra practice time this year has given them more chances to grow accustomed to the college game. And if anything, Richardson and Paul prepared these guys for this. “They’re great players who could score and did a lot of good things,” Egwu said. “I think they prepared us to take on the role. I think we’re ready to step up.”

18.6%

Joseph Bertrand has stories to tell, and John Groce is trying to get him to tell them. Bertrand has seen it all — wins and losses, injuries and rehab, stormed courts and letdowns. He’s seen his team lose 12 of 14 games to end a season, and he’s come seconds from the Sweet 16. Groce only expects him to share his experiences. Well, in addition to the many other expectations Groce has for him. The weight of Illini nation is on Bertrand’s shoulders. And Nnanna Egwu’s. And Tracy Abrams’. They are all that is left. Those three and sophomore walk-on Mike LaTulip are the only Illini who played in a game last year. Everyone else is new to the Illinois experience. The upperclassmen have stories to tell, especially Bertrand, and their head coach knows it. “I said to him the other day, ‘You’re older than me,’” Groce said of Bertrand. “‘You’ve been here five years. You’ve been through ups, you’ve been through downs; you’ve been through injuries, you’ve been through celebrations. You’ve bounced back from adversity.’ “What a shame if our older guys don’t share those experiences with the younger guys.” For nine faces, especially the five freshmen, this experience is completely brand new. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson accounted for 16.6 and 12.3 points per game respectively last season. The only other double-figure scorer was point guard Abrams. Those are big shoes to fill. But Egwu doesn’t look at it like that. “I don’t think anyone’s worried about filling their shoes,” Egwu said. “No one’s going out there and saying, ‘I want to be like D.J. Richardson, I want to be like Brandon Paul.’ People are like: ‘I want to be me. I want to go out there and do what I know. I want to be that guy that other’s say, can I fill his shoes?’” Bertrand remembers being a freshman — a season he ultimately redshirted — living in the dorms with Richardson, Paul and Tyler Griffey. That’s when he got close with his teammates. And that’s what he sees from this year’s freshmen: Jaylon Tate, Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Kendrick Nunn and Austin Colbert. “I think their closeness has rubbed off on everyone else,” the junior center, Egwu, said. “With nine new guys total, it’d be hard for you to tell me that we’d be this close as a team.” Groce would agree that the freshmen are close. But being close off the court is different from being close on it. And no one can teach the freshmen like Bertrand, Egwu and Abrams. “We need more of our veterans to be outspoken,” Groce said. “I keep using the phrase: We need them to have meaningful communication with the nine new faces. You take a guys like Joe, I’m on Joe — and he’ll be the first to tell you — to talk more.”

Returning SOURCE: FIGHTINGILLINI.COM

Lost BRYAN LORENZ THE DAILY ILLINI


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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

5

Rice comes home to play in Champaign By Johnathan Hettinger Staff writer

Before Rayvonte Rice played college basketball, he was dressed in orange and blue. He loyally went to Illinois basketball games; he remembers watching an Illinois team led by Cory Bradford win back-to-back Big Ten titles. He was in the stands to watch the magical 2004-05 season highlighted by Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head. The Champaign native always dreamed of playing basketball at his hometown university, but Illinois head coach Bruce Weber never offered Rice a scholarship. And, after his senior year of basketball at Centennial High School was over, he went to play for Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. From the moment he arrived at Drake, Rice was the best player on the Bulldogs. He led the team in scoring (13.8 points per game), rebounding (4.8), blocks (.8) and steals (1.4) as a freshman. The next year, he stepped up his game, leading the Missouri Valley in steals and finishing third in scoring and minutes. As a sophomore, he was dominating the league. But when new Illinois head coach John Groce offered Rice an opportunity to come home, he accepted. *** Rice was never known for being a skinny player, but when he arrived on campus, he weighed 267 pounds and had 12.3 percent body fat. At 6-foot-4, he was the heaviest player on the team, heavier than all of the post players by at least 20 pounds.

So Groce immediately gave him a task: diet. And diet he did. Rice cut out all sorts of foods. He avoided his mother’s cooking, even his favorite macaroni that had “too many cheeses.” This task was all the more difficult since he visited his mother at least once or twice a week since moving back to Champaign. Rice now checks in at 235 pounds and 5 percent body fat. He’s by no means a small player, but he’s fit. “Ray Rice has been a poster child for the area of strength and conditioning in our program, whether it’s been in body fat or strength numbers or conditioning numbers,” Groce said. In addition to losing 36 pounds, Rice used his year off to learn two positions in Groce’s system, refine his outside shot and become more versatile. “Ray Rice, to be honest with you, could play four positions,” Groce said. “He can play multiple positions defensively. He can play multiple positions offensively. I think Ray’s gift is that he’s very, very versatile.” Junior center Nnanna Egwu, Rice’s roommate, agrees. “He’s a rare breed,” Egwu said. “Ray is Ray. Ray dominates. Ray attacks the basket. He’s gotten a lot better with his shot. He’s become a lot better leader. His effort level is amazing. He works hard every practice. He brings a lot of energy to every practice and every game.” For the past year, practices have been Ray’s games, and Groce has liked what he’s seen. “I’ve been doing it now 19, going on 20 years, I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy who’s sitting out

brenton tse the daily illini

Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice dribbles past his defender during an exhibition game Sunday. Rice will play his first regular season game for Illinois Friday after transferring from Drake in 2012. on a transfer make the number of strides in the year that he did when he was out,” Groce said. “He understood that that was going to pay off for him when he became eligible to play.” *** Rice will finally suit up for the Illini in a regular season contest Friday against Alabama State. His body of work since transferring to Illinois will likely result in a spot in the starting lineup next to Egwu, Tracy Abrams, Jon

Ekey and Joseph Bertrand. At 7 p.m., he will stand on the floor under the banners of the jerseys of his childhood idols. And when the ball is tipped, the three-mile journey from Centennial High School to State Farm Center will finally be complete. And a childhood dream will come true.

Johnathan can be reached at hetting2@ dailyillini.com and @jhett93.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

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6

BRENTON TSE THE DAILY ILLINI

Illinois head coach John Groce instructs his team during the exibition game against Northwood at State Farm Center on Sunday. Groce returns just three scholarship players in his second season.

PROGRAM TAKING SHAPE UNDER GROCE

In 2nd season, head coach again has to acclimate a roster full of new faces BY JOHNATHAN HETTINGER STAFF WRITER

The year was 1997. Second-year head coach Lon Kruger had started 22-10 in his first season. He had a team of five seniors, three of whom were returning starters. The experienced lineup led the Illini to their first Big Ten Championship in 14 seasons. The year was 2001. Second-year head coach Bill Self was a win away from the Final Four the previous season. He had already won a Big Ten championship and owned a roster with four future NBA players. Illinois would win a second consecutive Big Ten championship for the first time since 1952. The year was 2004. Second-year head coach Bruce Weber had brought the Illini their first outright Big Ten championship since 1963 behind future NBA All-Star Deron Williams. Illinois came into the season No. 6, and it wasn’t long before it ascended to No. 1. The Illini would stay there for most of the season, en route to a Big Ten championship and a NCAA runner-up finish. The year is 2013. Second-year head coach John Groce resurrected a program that had won one NCAA tournament game in six seasons and took it back to the third round of the NCAA tournament, almost reaching the Sweet 16. He returns just three contributors from last season and has nine new players

this season. But Groce doesn’t appear to be in a position to repeat the feat accomplished by his three most recent predecessors. He hit the reset button just one season after taking over the program. The Illini return three scholarship players — senior Joseph Bertrand and juniors Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu — and one walk-on, Mike LaTulip. Everyone else that Weber left for Groce has either transferred or graduated. Groce brought in a full starting lineup of freshmen, in addition to four transfers this offseason. He had already added Rayvonte Rice, a transfer from Drake before his first season began. Groce said those five returners have helped the nine new players transition in easier, making the reset move more quickly. “Even though we were a much more experienced team, an older team and had a lot more age to us last season, when I started with that group, all of them were new,” Groce said. “We’re really relying on these five guys to teach us every day how we do things.” Groce also expects an expanded role on the court for the players who grew up in the shadows of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. “It’s a different role for me this year. I’ve got to be more a leader,” Abrams said. “We’ve got nine new guys. I’ve got to step up and be that guy to help those guys out. Coach definitely knows that and he’s pushing me to do that.” Egwu said he’s noticed the impact he and his experienced teammates have had on the new guys. “It’s a lot of learning. We learned a lot

more in the summer and the fall than we did last year,” Egwu said. Practice started earlier this season, on Sept. 27 instead of Oct. 15. The new schedule allowed for more breaks between practices rather than a rushed practice schedule. Groce said this helped the new players, especially the freshmen, learn the system. “I’ve put the brakes on,” he said. “There’s so many things I’ve whacked or gotten rid of off the practice plan just because I don’t think we’re ready for that. And that’s OK.” The freshmen have asked questions of the coaches and the players, and even experienced guys have found this helpful. “They ask me certain questions and as I’m answering, I ask (coaches): ‘How do you do this?’ I learn, they learn. We all get better,” Egwu said. The freshmen have added more than questions to practice. “Youthfulness sometimes can bring excitement and energy, and you can certainly see that here in our practices early on,” Groce said. “Whether we’re able to maintain that, we’ll see.” While Illinois’ offense has been installed slower than originally expected, it will likely be more complex than last season and less reliant on the 3-point shot. “This year’s team will be more balanced than last year’s team when it comes to driving and shooting threes,” Groce said. “I think that balance will be good for us offensively.” The Illini played more pick-and-roll than any team in the country last season, and Groce said he doesn’t expect that to change this year.

“Youthfulness sometimes can bring excitement and energy, and you can certainly see that here in our practices early on. Whether we’re able to maintain that, we’ll see.” JOHN GROCE, HEAD COACH

“I think that’s the future of basketball,” he said, noting pick-and-roll offenses are used heavily in the NBA. The style of play has been helpful in another area of the program where Groce has found success recently: recruiting. When four-star point guard Quentin Snider committed to Illinois in September, he said the style of play was a big reason why. Egwu could see why. “It fits everyone,” Egwu said. “Everyone plays well.” In addition to Snider, Groce has two more commits in the class of 2014: four-star forward Leron Black and three-star forward Michael Finke. The class is currently ranked No. 12 in the nation, but it could

SEE GROCE | 10


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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

7

BIG SHOES TO FILL Head coach John Groce’s three most recent predecessors won the Big Ten Championship in their second seasons at Illinois.

LON KRUGER

In his second year, Lon Kruger led a senior-laden team to Illinois’ first Big Ten championship in 14 years.

BRUCE WEBER

1ST YEAR 22-10

1ST YEAR 26-7

(1996-97)

(2003-04)

RECORD 13-3 BIG TEN CHAMPIONS

RECORD 11-7

2ND YEAR 23-10

2ND YEAR 37-2

(1997-98)

(2004-05)

RECORD 15-1 BIG TEN CHAMPIONS

RECORD 13-3 BIG TEN CHAMPIONS

BILL SELF

Bruce Weber led the Illini to the NCAA championship game in his second year at Illinois.

Bill Self led the Illini to back-to-back Big Ten championships for the first time since 1951-52 in his first two seasons.

Groce’s unit is projected to finish eighth in the Big Ten after returning just three contributors from last season. JOHN GROCE John

1ST YEAR 27-8

1ST YEAR 23-13

(2000-01)

(2012-13)

RECORD 13-3 BIG TEN CHAMPIONS

RECORD 8-10

2ND YEAR 26-9

2ND YEAR

(2001-02)

(2013-14)

RECORD 11-5 BIG TEN CHAMPIONS

RECORD

?

THE REBUILDING PROCESS: SCHOLARSHIP GRID John Groce has rebuilt the Illinois men’s basketball program, adding 11 players since taking over in April 2012. Groce has had momentum in recruiting, but, as it currently stands, Illinois has one more player committed to play on next year’s team than scholarships allow, meaning one current player or recruit will not be eligible to suit up for the Illini next season.

SCHOLARSHIP

2013-14

2014-15

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

1

TRACY ABRAMS

TRACY ABRAMS

AARON COSBY

MALCOLM HILL

MICHAEL FINKE*

2

NNANNA EGWU

NNANNA EGWU

MALCOLM HILL

KENDRICK NUNN

LERON BLACK*

3

RAYVONTE RICE

RAYVONTE RICE

KENDRICK NUNN

JAYLON TATE

QUENTIN SNIDER*

4

MALCOLM HILL

MALCOLM HILL

JAYLON TATE

AUSTIN COLBERT

D.J. WILLIAMS

5

KENDRICK NUNN

KENDRICK NUNN

AUSTIN COLBERT

DARIUS PAUL

OPEN

6

JAYLON TATE

JAYLON TATE

DARIUS PAUL

MAVERICK MORGAN

OPEN

7

AUSTIN COLBERT

AUSTIN COLBERT

MAVERICK MORGAN

MICHAEL FINKE*

OPEN

8

DARIUS PAUL

DARIUS PAUL

MICHAEL FINKE*

LERON BLACK*

OPEN

9

MAVERICK MORGAN

MAVERICK MORGAN

LERON BLACK*

QUENTIN SNIDER*

OPEN

10

AHMAD STARKS

AHMAD STARKS

QUENTIN SNIDER*

D.J. WILLIAMS

OPEN

11

AARON COSBY

AARON COSBY

D.J. WILLIAMS

OPEN

OPEN

12

JOSEPH BERTRAND

MICHAEL FINKE*

OPEN

OPEN

OPEN

13

JON EKEY

LERON BLACK*

OPEN

OPEN

OPEN

OVER LIMIT

OPEN

QUENTIN SNIDER*

OPEN

OPEN

OPEN

WALK-ON

MIKE LATULIP

MIKE LATULIP

MIKE LATULIP

OPEN

OPEN

FRESHMAN

SOPHOMORE

JUNIOR

SENIOR

REDSHIRT

* VERBAL COMMIT


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Daily Illini  |  www.DailyIllini.com

8

daily illini file photo

Illinois’ Tyler Griffey takes the game-winning layup during the Illini’s win over Indiana at the State Farm Center on Feb. 7. Fifth-year transfer Jon Ekey has been compared to Tyler Griffey.

Ekey looks to leave unique mark for Illini By Sean Hammond Senior Writer

Every time Jon Ekey walks into the men’s basketball practice facility at the Ubben Basketball Complex, he sees a photo of Tyler Griffey dropping the game-winning layup into the basket against No. 1-ranked Indiana last February. The photo, spanning the length of the basketball court, serves as a constant reminder of what his role is on the Illinois squad. Since he announced his transfer down Interstate 74 from Illinois State in April, there have been constant comparisons between Ekey and Griffey. Like Griffey, Ekey — a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward — can knock down jumpers from the outside and battle for boards in the paint. But not everyone agrees that the comparisons are fair. Senior forward Joseph Bertrand, who came in the same year as Griffey before redshirting, said other than their 3-point ability, there’s not a lot in common. “They both can knock down open shots

and will play hard for you, but they don’t really have a similar playing style,” Bertrand said. Ekey, a Missouri native (like Griffey), is a graduate transfer who played three seasons at ISU and is eligible to play for the Illini this season. He is one of nine fresh faces on the Illinois roster. The constant comparisons to Griffey don’t faze him. “Every day I come in here and see him hitting one of the biggest shots that I’ve seen in a long time,” Ekey said of the photo on the Ubben wall. “It’s not one of the toughest ones, I’d say, but it’s definitely one of the biggest ones.” Ekey is expected to fill the same role on this year’s Illinois squad as Griffey did last year — that of a “stretch four,” a power forward who can space the floor with jump shots. At Illinois State, Ekey averaged 6.7 points during his three seasons and 4.4 rebounds. He shot .365 from 3-point range, including

a career-high .407 his sophomore year. “Just watching film on him,” Ekey said of Griffey, “seeing the way he played the game and what he did, I’m trying to use it with a twist here and there.” The twist is that Ekey has a better nose for the ball in the paint. It showed in Illinois’ exhibition games this season. Even when he wasn’t pulling down rebounds, he was getting a hand on the ball and tipping it out to teammates. Head coach John Groce called Ekey a “deceptively good athlete.” “He’s different,” center Nnanna Egwu said. “With Ekey, just like Tyler, he shoots the ball a lot. But he attacks the basket, too. He will shot-fake you, and he’ll take it to the basket. If you’re not ready, he’ll dunk on you.” Bertrand agreed that Ekey can get up. Egwu also praised Ekey’s ability to come into the program and pick up Groce’s system without a hitch. Groce said early in the preseason that Ekey was grading out better

and more consistently than any other player on the Illinois roster. And Groce, like Egwu and Bertrand, shies away from the Griffey comparison. “There are some similarities, but it’s not necessarily tit-for-tat like some people would think,” Groce said. “Jon is probably a little bit more perimeter-oriented than Griff was. Griff’s a little bit bigger. Both of them shoot the ball well, but Jon is a little bit more skilled, probably, with dribbling and passing.” When he puts on the orange and blue for the first time against Alabama State on Friday, it will be a new page in Ekey’s book. And it will be a new page for Illinois basketball. Griffey left his mark on the Illini basketball program — captured in the iconic layup to beat Indiana. Now it’s Ekey’s chance to leave a mark. He knows what that means. He still sees Griffey’s on the wall every day.

Sean can be reached at sphammo2@ dailyillini.com and @sean_hammond.


THE DAILY ILLINI | www.DailyIllini.com

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

9 Rebuilding the Chicago pipeline

Tapping into a talented Chicago recruiting base has been an emphasis for head coach John Groce. This year’s team has five players from Chicago, the most since 1994-95. NUMBER OF PLAYERS FROM CHICAGO

6 5

5

4

4 3

4 3

4

4

4

3

3 2 1 0

0

0

2

3

4

3 2

2 1 0

1989 ‘90 ‘91 ‘92 ‘93 ‘94 ‘95 ‘96 ‘97 ‘98 ‘99 ‘00 ‘01 ‘02 ‘03 ‘04 ‘05 ‘06 ‘07 ‘08 ‘09 ‘10 ‘11 ‘12 ‘13 ‘14 PORTRAIT OF KENDRICK NUNN AND JAYLON TATE BY BRENTON TSE THE DAILY ILLINI

SOURCE: FIGHTINGILLINI.COM

BRYAN LORENZ THE DAILY ILLINI

Simeon alums stick together at Illinois

Nunn, Tate hope to help secure Chicago pipeline for Groce, Illinois BY ERIK PRADO ON-AIR REPORTER

Jaylon Tate first remembered playing basketball against Kendrick Nunn in seventh grade. Nunn had a vague idea of how long he has known Tate. “Since we been knee high,” Nunn said. The two incoming freshmen started as local rivals on the basketball courts on the south side of Chicago. “We used to always go back and forth with each other,” Tate said. They eventually became teammates on the Meanstreets AAU squad and then at Simeon Career Academy. They dominated their Chicago Public League and statewide competition. Nunn was part of four straight state titles, two more than Tate, who had transferred to Simeon after his sophomore year at De La Salle. It only seemed fitting that the two freshmen both chose to continue their basketball careers in Champaign, playing for head coach John Groce, who said while the two are improving, they still have much to learn. “Us having a really good bond off the court

makes it easier for us on the court,” Nunn said. “Just playing with him in high school, we already have a type of bond and toughness together.” Tate said his chemistry with Nunn has made the transition to college basketball go smoothly. He also credited his high school coach, Robert Smith, for preparing him for the next level. “They are very competitive kids,” Groce said. “They’re used to playing with and against some of the best players in the country.” Tate said the strong competitive nature means he and Nunn go at each other with great intensity to this day. “That’s only on the court,” he added. “Off the court we’re the best of friends.” The best friends are coming to Illinois at a time when the program has been heavily criticized for not recruiting Chicago harder. The uproar was at its loudest when Simeon alumnus Derrick Rose left the state to play at Memphis. Anthony Davis of Perspectives Charter went to Kentucky. Two-time Mr. Basketball in Illinois, Jabari Parker, also from Simeon, left for Duke.

Those criticisms started to fade when Nunn committed to the program in September 2012, and Tate the following month. Groce and his staff had landed Nunn, a consensus top-75 recruit, from perhaps the most well-known high school team in the city. Memphis, Marquette and Ohio State all recruited Nunn. He knew staying in-state carried a lot of significance for the program. “It’s how Illinois guys should get recruited and come to Illinois. It’s just a pipeline from Chicago to Champaign that I think is big,” Nunn said. Groce said Chicago only adds to the strong basketball culture of the state of Illinois. “California and New York, I believe, are the only two states that have turned out more professional basketball players than the state of Illinois,” Groce said. Groce credited his staff for its stepped-up recruiting efforts in the city, as further evidenced by its strong pursuit of Curie Metropolitan’s Cliff Alexander, a consensus topthree recruit who will choose his college on Nov. 15 in a televised news conference. “I really like what the assistant coaches have done a great job, getting us involved with talented people and players,” he added. The Chicago basketball scene is also engraved with tragedy. In 1984, Simeon senior Benji Wilson was killed the day before his team was to start the season. Wilson was the first Chicagoan to be named the No. 1

recruit in the nation. No one knows for sure which college Wilson would have attended, but his teammates said he would have likely been an Illini. Since then, Wilson’s old jersey number, 25, has been sought by the Simeon players who put on an Illini jersey. Nunn will be the one to don that number. “A lot of great players wore No. 25 back at Simeon and also here at Illinois, so I just want to continue that tradition.” he said. With the addition of Nunn, Tate and transfer senior Ahmad Starks from Whitney Young, five players on Groce’s roster call Chicago home, the other two being Nnanna Eqwu of St. Ignatius and Tracy Abrams of Mount Carmel. Egwu said Nunn and Tate are both great at using their speed to attack the basket, and because the two had great success in high school, they won’t accept losing. Egwu told them to be ready for adversity. “I keep telling them to keep moving on, to keep pushing, to keep working hard, to keep improving,” Egwu said. The basketball careers of Nunn and Tate are still young. But their history together runs deep. And Illinois hopes to make the connection between their hometown and Champaign a staple of the program’s future.

Erik can be reached at eprado3@ dailyillini.com and @e_prada.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

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10

TRANSFERS: WHERE DID THEY COME FROM? WHERE DID THEY GO?

2013-14 SCHEDULE

Since Illinois head coach John Groce took over the men’s basketball team in 2012, the Illini have seen four players transfer out and six players transfer into Champaign. transfers in

transfers out

HOME

AWAY

NEUTRAL SITE GAME

NOV. 8

7 P.M.

ALABAMA STATE

NOV. 10

5 P.M.

NOV. 13

6:30 P.M.

NOV. 17

5 P.M.

BRADLEY

NOV. 22

8 P.M.

CHICAGO STATE

BTN

NOV. 26

9:45 P.M.

UNLV

CBS SPORTS NET

NOV. 29

7 P.M.

IPFW

DEC. 3

6:15 P.M.

DEC. 8

JACKSONVILLE STATE VALPARAISO

BTN

6

SAM MCLAURIN RAYVONTE RICE JON EKEY transfer from

transfer from

transfer from

COASTAL CAROLINA (CONWAY, SC)

DRAKE (DES MOINES, IOWA)

ILLINOIS STATE (NORMAL, ILL.)

1

2

8 2

3

AARON COSBY

DARIUS PAUL

AHMAD STARKS

transfer from

transfer from

transfer from

SETON HALL (SOUTH ORANGE, NJ)

WESTERN MICHIGAN (KALAMAZOO, MICH.)

OREGON STATE (CORVALLIS, ORE.)

4

9

5

4

3

10

7

ESPN2

2 P.M.

AUBURN

FOX SPORTS NET

DEC. 10

7 P.M.

DARTMOUTH

DEC. 14

8 P.M.

OREGON

ESPN2

DEC. 21

4:30 P.M.

MISSOURI

ESPN2

DEC. 28

1 P.M.

UIC

BTN

DEC. 31

2 P.M.

INDIANA

ESPN2

1

6

5

GEORGIA TECH

DEVIN LANGFORD MYKE HENRY MIKE SHAW transfer to

transfer to

transfer to

transfer to

JAN. 4

1:15 P.M.

PENN STATE

BTN

KENTUCKY WESLEYAN (OWENSBORO, KY.)

DEPAUL (CHICAGO, ILL.)

BRADLEY (PEORIA, ILL.)

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (CARBONDALE, ILL.)

JAN. 8

8 P.M.

WISCONSIN

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JAN. 12

6:30 P.M.

NORTHWESTERN

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JAN. 15

8 P.M.

PURDUE

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JAN. 18

7 P.M.

MICHIGAN STATE

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JAN. 23

6 P.M.

OHIO STATE

ESPN

JAN. 26

2 P.M.

INDIANA

BTN

FEB. 1

6:30 P.M.

IOWA

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FEB. 4

8 P.M.

WISCONSIN

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FEB. 9

3:15 P.M.

PENN STATE

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FEB. 12

8 P.M.

NEBRASKA

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FEB. 15

7 P.M.

OHIO STATE

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FEB. 19

8 P.M.

MINNESOTA

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FEB. 26

8 P.M.

NEBRASKA

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MAR. 1

1 P.M.

MICHIGAN STATE

ESPN

MAR. 4

6 P.M.

MICHIGAN

ESPN

MAR. 8/9

TBA

IOWA

TBA

7

8

9

10 SCOTT DURAND THE DAILY ILLINI

FROM C7

GROCE receive a big boost if five-star forward Cliff Alexander chooses Illinois. Alexander is still considering Illinois, Kansas, Memphis and DePaul, but it is largely considered to be a twohorse race between the Illini and the Jayhawks. While Groce can’t comment on this year’s recruiting, he said the Illini have a lot of momentum. Possibly, too much momentum. As it currently stands, the Illini do not have enough scholarships for all of the current players and the commits in next year’s class. If Alexander commits, the Illini will be oversigned by two, meaning two players will have to go somewhere else. Still, it’s a good problem to have compared to having just 10 scholarship players this season, three fewer than the allowed 13. “It is what it is,” Groce said. “We have what we have. We want to use that to our advan-

tage with how versatile and maybe even went a little highhow interchangeable guys er than their potential, which are.” is what you want with every Groce said it is the most ver- team,” he said. “But we’ve satile team he’s ever coached, got high aspirations and high led by Rice, who can play four expectations for what it means positions. The freshmen can to be a part of Illini basketball, also play muland we have a tiple posilong way to go.” tions, allowThis seai ng Groce son, the Illini fl exibility in were picked to how he uses them. fi nish eighth “No quesin the Big Ten — far from tion. There’s a lot of excitethe Big Ten ment around championour program ships won by for a lot of reaKruger, Self sons, recruitand Weber. ing is certainGroce said ly a part of it,” he can see he said. Groce JOHN GROCE why. The IlliHEAD COACH also noted that ni lost most of the upcoming their producState Farm tion, while the Center renovations are bene- conference’s bottom-feeders ficial to the program, but he all improved, but he said he said none of it would have been wasn’t worried about what the possible without the success media had to say. This year’s last year’s team had. team already understands the “Our team, as much as any importance of defense and team I’ve coached, reached or rebounding, which are crucial

“We’ve got high aspirations and high expectations for what it means to be a part of Illini basketball, and we have a long way to go.”

to winning games. Egwu said he’s already seen his teammates fi ght under Groce in a way that he hadn’t seen before. “We were 2-7 in the Big Ten and it was kind of like, ‘Here we go again,’” Egwu said. We never gave up. We always knew we had a chance, even through the last game.” He expects to see the same fight this year. “We understand the prediction,” Egwu said. “We understand it’s their job, But we’re the ones in practice every day. We’re the ones seeing each other play. We’re the ones seeing how every player has improved throughout the last year, through the summer and the fall. We’re the ones watching that. We’re playing with each other every day. Until we play our fi rst game and keep on playing throughout the season, no one’s going to know until then.”

Johnathan can be reached at hetting2@dailyillini.com and @jhett93.


THE DAILY ILLINI | www.DailyIllini.com

Preview Compiled by Torrence Sorrell & Michael Wonsover PROJECTED FINISH: 1ST

Michigan State Head coach: Tom Izzo Record: 27-9, 13-5 Big Ten Postseason finish: Lost in the Sweet 16 in NCAA tournament Key losses: Derrick Nix Key returners: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson Key additions: None From the coach: “I do think we’ve got a good team. I think we’ve got a veteran team. I think we’ve added some pieces. We’ve got some guys back healthy. You put all those things together, I think it gives you a shot, if guys handle the things that go with being ranked high and continue to get better each and every game.” Analysis: The Spartans, coming in at No. 2 in the coaches poll, will be an absolute terror this season. Gary Harris, coming off a stellar freshman season, was named the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. It’s not clear if he’s even the best player on his team with seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling returning. PROJECTED FINISH: 5TH

Indiana

Head coach: Tom Crean Record: 29-7, 14-4 Big Ten Postseason finish: Lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament Key losses: Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls Key returners: Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey Key additions: Noah Vonleh, Luke Fischer and Troy Williams From the coach: “I think the biggest thing we’re trying to get accomplished right now is to get our team to understand — this team to understand what it takes to practice at a championship level.” Analysis: Last season’s top-ranked offense in the Big Ten would be lucky to finish in the upper half of the conference this season. Sophomore Yogi Ferrell was a big-time recruit but had a disappointing freshman season. His role will expand dramatically this season, leading to Indiana’s disappointing ranking on this list. PROJECTED FINISH: 9TH

Penn State

Head coach: Patrick Chambers Record: 10-21, 2-16 Big Ten Postseason finish: N/A Key losses: Jermaine Marshall Key returners: Tim Frazier, D.J Newbill and Ross Travis Key additions: None From the coach: “I think you’re going to see an older veteran backcourt that kind of has been through a lot. One’s a transfer; one went through a major injury.” Analysis: I love senior point guard Tim Frazier. He’s the Big Ten version of Monta Ellis, chucking up shots left and right but pretty much doing everything on the basketball court at a high level. If Frazier’s Achilles tendon is fully healed and junior D.J. Newbill replicates his success from a season ago, we may have the Nittany Lions about three spots too low on this list.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

11

PROJECTED FINISH: 2ND

Michigan

Head coach: John Beilein Record: 31-8, 12-6 Big Ten Postseason finish: Runner-up in NCAA tournament Key losses: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. Key returners: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas Key additions: Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton From the coach: “We can play big. We can play guards — all guards. We can do a lot of things.” Analysis: Michigan is stacked even with the loss of two NBA first round picks. Expect sophomores Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III to breakout in likely their last season in Ann Arbor. This unit may be the Big Ten’s best offense and could dethrone Michigan State as the best team in the conference if their shots are falling. PROJECTED FINISH: 6TH

Iowa

Head coach: Fran McCaffery Record: 25-13, 9-9 Big Ten Postseason finish: Runner-up in NIT tournament Key losses: Melsahn Basabe and Eric May Key returners: Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White and Mike Gesell Key additions: Jared Uthoff From the coach: “Obviously we’re very optimistic about this year’s team. Recognize the position we’re in and welcome the challenge. I’ve not had a team in my entire career that is this deep.” Analysis: Tough, experienced and physical are all these words that define the Hawkeyes this season. Junior Aaron White and senior Roy Devyn Marble are as good of a one-two punch as there is in this league. This may be the best defensive team in the Big Ten not named Ohio State. PROJECTED FINISH: 10TH

Northwestern Head coach: Chris Collins Record: 13-19, 4-14 Big Ten Postseason finish: N/A Key losses: Reggie Hearn Key returners: Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb and Dave Sobolewski Key additions: None From the coach: “And the main thing I’ve tried to do more than anything is lay a foundation for what we want our program to be about, how hard we play, how we practice, the attention to detail.” Analysis: With new head coach Chris Collins now at the helm, the Wildcats won’t be running the ineffective Princeton offense anymore. Senior Drew Crawford will provide some optimism in his fifth year of eligibility. A couple fun facts about Crawford: He’s the son of NBA referee Dan Crawford and was also sixth in the Big Ten in points per game during his last healthy season at 16.1. In all likelihood, the NCAA tournament drought won’t end for Northwestern.

Big Ten is set to come back strong after successful campaign; Michigan State enters season as favorite PROJECTED FINISH: 3RD

Ohio State

Head coach: Thad Matta Record: 29-8, 13-5 Big Ten Postseason finish: Lost in the Elite Eight of NCAA tournament Key losses: Deshaun Thomas Key returners: Aaron Craft, Amir Williams, Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross Key additions: Kam Williams, Marc Loving From the coach: “I think the dynamics of our offense will be very unselfish play. Ball movement, a lot of body movement. We’ve got length. We’ve got size.” Analysis: Ohio State is going to be the best defensive team in the conference, if not the country. Senior guard Aaron Craft creates havoc on the defensive end. Junior LaQuinton Ross may be the most improved player in the Big Ten. PROJECTED FINISH: 7TH

Illinois

Head coach: John Groce Record: 23-13, 8-10 Big Ten Postseason finish: Lost in the third round of NCAA tournament Key losses: Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey Key returners: Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Nnanna Egwu Key additions: Jon Ekey, Rayvonte Rice, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill From the coach: “I thought last year we played fast to a degree. I’d like to play faster.” Analysis: Illinois is hard to predict with so much turnover from a season ago, but John Groce runs the team like a well-oiled machine. The 3-pointers will decline from last season, but the athletic play of senior Joseph Bertrand and junior transfer Rayvonte Rice should for the lack of shooting. Rice has a chance to make the biggest impact for a transfer student in the country this season. PROJECTED FINISH: 11TH

Minnesota

Head coach: Richard Pitino Record: 21-13, 8-10 Big Ten Postseason finish: Lost in the third round of NCAA tournament Key losses: Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams Key returners: Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins Key additions: None From the coach: “Certainly, we would like to create offense from our defense. We don’t really want to slow up, run a lot of sets.” Analysis: Richard Pitino has quite the challenge. Minnesota was near the bottom of the conference defensively last season, and it doesn’t get easier with big men Mbakwe and Williams gone. Junior Andre Hollins is a very good player, but this team could struggle with the transition.

PROJECTED FINISH: 4TH

Wisconsin

Head coach: Bo Ryan Record: 23-12, 12-6 Big Ten Postseason finish: Lost in the second round of NCAA tournament Key losses: Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz Key returners: Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and John Gasser Key additions: Nigel Hayes From the coach: “And if it’s not the youngest team we’ve ever had since I’ve been there, it’s close. We’re trying to get old in a hurry.” Analysis: Wisconsin doesn’t have the weapons to contend in the upper-echelon of the Big Ten, but Bo Ryan never lets his Badgers fall far. Sophomore Sam Dekker may be the most underrated player in the Big Ten. Come March the swingman is going to be a household name. PROJECTED FINISH: 8TH

Purdue

Head coach: Matt Painter Record: 15-17, 8-10 Big Ten Postseason finish: Lost in the second round of CBI tournament Key losses: D.J. Byrd Key returners: Terone Johnson, Rapheal Davis, Ronnie Johnson and A.J Hammons Key additions: Kendall Stephens From the coach: “We talked about returning four starters, and I really don’t know who our starters are going to be. I think it’s a good thing for us. We have more depth. We have more experience.” Analysis: The Boilermakers will go as far as sophomore A.J. Hammonds takes them. The big man is the leading returning shot blocker in the conference. However, this team will have a hard time finding productivity outside of Hammond. Is Robbie Hummel still eligible? PROJECTED FINISH: 12TH

Nebraska

Head coach: Tim Miles Record: 15-18, 5-13 Big Ten Postseason finish: N/A Key losses: Brandon Ubel, Dylan Talley Key returners: Shavon Shields, Ray Gallegos and David Rivers Key additions: Nick Fuller, Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford and Tai Webster From the coach: “I mean, it’s going to be an interesting year. I like our guys, though. They have a great appetite for work.” Analysis: Nebraska is going to be brutal this season. Unlike most the teams in the Big Ten, there isn’t even one bright spot on the roster to give the team some confidence heading into the season. Senior Ray Gallegos is the closest thing Nebraska has to a star player, but he only shot 36.1 percent from the field last season. This is going to be a bad year for the Cornhuskers, very bad.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Daily Illini  |  www.DailyIllini.com

12

Don’t overlook Illinois in 2013-14 michael wonsover Basketball columnist

T

he cogs of Illinois’ NCAA tournament team from a year ago are gone. The foundation Illinois head coach John Groce built last season still exists, but the inhabitants are brand new. Illinois has already received 2014 commitments from top-100 recruits in power forward Leron Black (41st overall according to ESPN) and point guard Quentin Snider (35th overall on ESPN). Transfers Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul will be eligible to play by then after sitting out the 2013-14 season. Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey will be the only departures. The 2014-15 Illini are already being hyped as the best Illinois team since 2004-05. But it’s not 2014 yet. There’s still a season to be played and reason for optimism this year. Don’t expect John Groce to give up. No one thought Groce would take Bruce Weber’s miscasts and turn them into an NCAA tournament team last season. Groce maximized the potential of his mediocre roster. This year’s team shouldn’t be brushed off, either.

There may not be a Brandon Paul on the team, but Illinois’ roster is deep with potential contributors. Rayvonte Rice, a Champaign native, is going to quickly become a fan-favorite with his physical play and relentless attitude. I’m feeling strong vibes for him becoming the best player on this team sooner rather than later. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound guard is somewhat of a mystery man after transferring from Drake, but Rice has been raved about by his teammates. Bertrand, who has the unenviable task of being matched up with Rice regularly in practice, said you should expect much more athleticism from Rice than he displayed during his botched dunk during Illinois’ first exhibition game. The upperclassmen trio of Bertrand, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu will need to step up and provide solidarity to this team. Bertrand and Abrams have already been rotation players for the past two years, adding much needed experience to this young Illini roster. Egwu has been a revelation so far in preseason activities, utilizing a low-post game unseen by the Illini since the departure of Meyers Leonard. Egwu’s key to his improved post game so far has been what he’s called “keeping it simple.” Egwu says Illinois assistant coach Dustin Ford

has worked with him regularly to rework his post skills. The newcomers will be better than expected as well, with Illinois State transfer Ekey leading the way. The 6-foot-7 forward may be the best shooter on the team with 112 career 3-pointers. The Ekey and Tyler Griffey comparison

Writing off this team would be a mistake. There’s just too much talent on the roster. This team, even without a star like Paul, arguably fits Groce’s system better. is a bit lazy. Ekey is more athletic and physical than Griffey was, so the starting power forward spot could produce more than last season. Of the five freshmen, top-100 recruits

Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn have the most potential to crack the rotation this season. Hill at 6-foot-6 will be able to play three positions for the Illini this season. Nunn, who will proudly wear the storied No. 25 this season, has already got fans excited after his electric dunk in the first exhibition game. The left freshman will emerge as an important rotation player for this team. He’s just too talented. Hill and Nunn could quickly make Illini nation forget about next year’s top recruits. Illinois might not compete for a national championship or even the Big Ten title this season. Illinois would surpass expectations if it even matched last season’s solid, unspectacular finish. But writing off this team would be a mistake. There’s just too much talent on the roster. This team, even without a star like Paul, arguably fits Groce’s system better. With several players capable of playing multiple positions, Groce can use the Illini’s athleticism and length to match up with a variety of different opposing lineups. The shadow of the 2014-15 Illini looms large, but this season’s team will surprise people. Next year can wait.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at wonsovr2@ dailyillini.com.

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Basketball Showcase: November 5, 2013