Today Was A Good Day November 13, 2012
Austin Colbert to Illinois. Illinois 89, St. Francis 64. The basketball balm for our football wounds. Let’s talk about ‘em both.
Austin Colbert to Illinois
I have to say, what John Groce and his staff accomplished in 6 months with this class is quite impressive. And he did all of this while losing his lead recruiter midway through the summer and replacing him on the fly. The results of their hard work:
+ Kept Malcolm Hill (RSCI #66) in the fold. Hill had given a verbal to Bruce Weber’s staff, and priority #1 when Groce arrive on campus was to hold on to that verbal. He did.
+ Let Jalen James know that he didn’t fit our plans. It’s a tough call, but a new coach can’t be nice – he has to evaluate which players fit what he wants to do.
+ Added Kendrick Nunn (RSCI #51). Nunn is the jewel of this class as far as I’m concerned. We needed a shooting guard (check), we needed to get in good with an AAU program in Chicago like Meanstreets (check), and we needed to make a connection at Simeon high school again (check). Speaking of…
+ Added Jaylon Tate. When Demetrius Jackson selected home town Notre Dame, Groce immediately turned to Simeon again. And he picked up Jaylon Tate, Simeon’s transferred-in point guard. Tate isn’t a top-100 kid, but he fits a huge need in finding a point guard to back up Tracy Abrams next season.
+ Added Maverick Morgan (Rivals #149). We needed to add another PF/C to this class, and Groce found that guy in Ohio big man Maverick Morgan. I probably liked the way he landed Morgan the best. Morgan visited Illinois in mid-June and had set up trips for Wisconsin the next day and Minnesota the following day. He cancelled both trips and verballed to Illinois.
+ Won a couple silver medals. It’s not much – second place is first loser and whatnot – but Groce showed signs of being a great recruiter when he made the final three for players like Demetrius Jackson, Tyler Ennis, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes. To even make these lists with very little prep time tells me that John Groce will be an excellent recruiter.
+ Added Austin Colbert (RSCI #98). I really thought we had no chance here. Colbert had been down to Illinois, Miami, and Seton Hall, but added Villanova late. He visited there twice in two weeks (once unofficial, one an official visit) and then announced that he was ready to declare after returning from Philly. He reached under the desk and pulled out… an Illinois hat?
So I’ve decided to call this class The Restarting Five. Because in his first year, John Groce went out and recruited an entire starting five. Tate is a pure point guard, Nunn a true shooting guard, Hill a wing, Colbert a bouncy four, and Morgan a prototypical center. Groce’s first stamp on the program is to bring in an entire team of players that fit what he wants to do.
Given the time he had to build relationships and put this class together and the needs we had, I’m giving this class a solid B+. Jackson or XRM would have made it a solid A, but those recruits were just not to be. A late close on Colbert – we really needed a 4 in this class with Griffey and McLovin graduating – pushed him to an 89.3%. Still not an A, but about as solid a B as you can get.
Next up, a point guard and Keita Bates-Diop in the 2014 class. We only have one scholarship for that class right now, but at least one will open up. One always opens up. Add KBD and a scoring lead guard in the 2014 class, and we’re in really good shape to climb back to the top tier of the Big Ten.
So there you have it. My Colbert Report.
Illinois 89, St. Francis 65
It’s almost like this game was designed to make me happy. Here’s some of the things I was hoping for in the Eleven Fighting Illini series:
1) Offensive freedom. No more coaches yelling “no” during shots. No more dribbling until the shot clock is about to expire. No more benchings for taking an ill-advised shot. Aggression aggression aggression.
2) A Gandy-like turnaround for Griffey. Chris Gandy looked lost in Lou Henson’s system, but when Lon Kruger took over for Gandy’s senior season, he was a different player. I’ve wanted the same kind of breakout season for Tyler Griffey, and so far, that’s what we’re seeing.
3) Big strides from the sophomores. So far, Tracy Abrams looks like a different player in this system, and Myke Henry is showing that he might, in fact, be able to fill that “undersized four” role. We had a lineup tonight with Henry and Griffey in the frontcourt – loved it.
Please note that this was St. Francis. And the other game was Colgate. Until we show we can do these things at Wisconsin, it’s just all glorified scrimmages.
But my goodness were there parts of that game that got me out of my chair. 45 points in the first half and 44 in the second (this is Illinois basketball?). Griffey hitting those threes, and then when they came all the way out on him, driving to the basket. Tracy Abrams showing he can get to the hole. Brandon Paul getting to the line. And did I mention 89 points?
Again, this was just a win over a cupcake. As John Groce said in the postgame press conference, “we haven’t been popped in the mouth yet”. We just don’t know yet how this team will respond to adversity.
And what will we do when we’re not shooting this well? Granted, we had a lot of open looks, but there’s no way we shoot this well the rest of the season. Can we find another identity when the threes aren’t falling? There are a lot of questions.
But for now, I can’t really picture a better start for the Groce era. Two blowout wins at home where we pushed the ball and stayed aggressive. Right now, over two games, I can only think of two possessions where the shot clock was in danger of expiring. Man, I almost want to type that out again just so I can get excited again. Maybe two possessions where the shot clock was an issue. In 80 minutes of basketball.
Man, what a great day for Illini basketball. Recruiting continues to climb, and the players appear to really like this new offense. We could seriously surprise some people in Maui.
Thanks, Basketball Balm.