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Culture Change February 16, 2013

Mike from Big Ten Geeks had an interesting post about DJ Richardson the other day. Including some interesting NERDstats. DJ’s offensive rating the last four years in conference play:

Freshman: 100.2
Sophomore: 97.6
Junior: 89.9
Senior: 115.6

What’s offensive rating? Yeah, I can’t remember. Go ask one of the Geeks. BUT LOOK AT HOW MUCH BIGGER THAT LAST NUMBER IS.

Where did it all start?  If you ask me, it started here, in the press conference after the Ohio State game (start at the 2:00 mark):

Did DJ hear these words and magically flip a switch? Of course not. DJ didn’t really start clicking until one or two games later. But the process that John Groce has laid out for DJ from April until now has all been pointed towards one goal: an aggressive DJ Richardson, not a tentative DJ Richardson. If he misses a lot of shots between there and here, so be it.

And that got me thinking about the culture change that John Groce has been trying to implement in the whole program.  As he said last summer when he came up with the “TNT” theme, he realized that he needed to take a fairly talented team and instill toughness across the board.  He wasn’t going to come out and say it, but I think he saw what we saw – a team that followed their former coach’s insecurity.  When the coach yells “no” when you raise to shoot (DJ) or he takes you out at your first defensive mistake (Tyler), you’re not learning toughness.  You’re learning that you’d better not take any risks.

And then, when that coach does this after you break a six game losing streak with a home win over lowly Iowa…

Recruit Michael Orris texted #illini Bruce Weber the other day saying it’s amazing what happens when players set aside personal agendas.

Weber said he was going to show his team that Orris text.

…you don’t have to look very far to find a team in need of a culture change.  Were there personal agendas last year, leading to our 3-12 finish?  Maybe.  But the coaching reading a text from the recruit not going through the war with them probably wasn’t the best way to reverse the trend.

John Groce has gone the other way. Tyler had missed twenty two three pointers in a row, and John Groce told him to keep shooting and stay aggressive (to the point where the seventh biggest Tyler Griffey fan in the world – yours truly – began to wonder if this wasn’t just an awful coaching strategy from John Groce. Might this strategy actually shoot us out of close games?).

Well, how many times during the Purdue game did you find yourself saying “wait – Tyler Griffey did that?” Or even the last three games. Griffey putback dunk? ANOTHER Griffey offensive rebound – he hasn’t been able to defensively rebound the last three seasons. Wait, Tyler Griffey just out-jumped Scrappy McGoo DJ Byrd, spun around immediately, and dunked on him? Tyler Griffey??

Culture change. That’s the only way I can put it to words. For the first time in four (six?) seasons, we’re getting better as the Big Ten season progresses, and the main reason I can see is the rejuvenation of two formerly tentative players.

There not the only ones improving, of course. Tracy Abrams has really improved as a point guard in the last few weeks. The five games before this little run? 19 assists and 15 turnovers. The last three games? 16 assists and 3 turnovers.

Nnnanna, too. First 12 games of the season, his high in rebounds was six (Colgate and USC). In the last 14 games, he’s reached 10 twice, 9 twice, and 8 once.  And his defense seems much improved (still needs to work on defending without fouling, though).

Yes, coaching is probably twice as important as all of this ethereal “culture change” stuff.  John Groce can build all the confidence in the world, but if he can’t teach and instruct (or if he can’t recruit), he won’t get us back to where we all want to be.

But based on early results – specifically with Tyler and DJ – he knows exactly how to instill that toughness and togetherness that he talks about.  Recruiting and coaching look good at this point, but are still TBD.  In the “how to instill mental toughness” category, he gets an A so far.  Let’s hope he aces the final.

Chitownillini February 16th, 2013

I agree. The job JG has done is nothing short of miraculous. Anyone taking Marketing 101 can come up with a slogan and a cool wristband. JG was able to stick to his guns when the wheels looked like they were falling off and then instilled a change in culture with these guys that they actually were able to stay together and respond when it looked like this season was going to a dark and familiar place. The guy is an elite coach plain and simple.

Illinigrad February 16th, 2013

I looks like Groce is the real deal. I will certainly take this season over the futility of the last few. There is a time and place for everything, and Weber probably was in Champaign a bit too long. I wish him well in KS while we continue to put a positive new face on IL BB with JG.

OWWDig February 16th, 2013

It’s so very exciting. Also interesting is watching the adjustments that have happened in the 2nd half of the B1G with our defense – specifically fighting over/under screens instead of switching too easily and double teaming the post.

I am enjoying this year, but last night watching M.Hill drop 36ish points with ease has me also looking forward to the future. If Groce can do this with this group, imagine what he might do with a scorer like Hill and a 1st team Chicagoan like Nunn, and don’t sleep on Tate. A group of four letter names to lead us back to the Final Four? Sprinkle in some Maverick and Colbert. Yes, please.

And Mr. Lyle, your table is waiting.

LongLiveTheChief98 February 16th, 2013

Not that I’m complaining, but where has Joe John been during this win streak? Seems like all this positivity in Illini Land currently is too much for him to handle.
Now let’s get this important road W over the nerds tomorrow night!

PittsburghNellie February 16th, 2013

Joe John’s negativity doesn’t bother me one little bit, but the fact that he won’t say ANYTHING during the good times makes me think he’s just a snake who only likes to focus on the bad.
A few positive comments would go a long way for him on this stie, but I think he’d rather be the villain
Hopefully i’m wrong and he’s just been on vay-cay (yolo, joe john)

phytynlini February 16th, 2013


bkenny February 17th, 2013

Yup, JJ would rather be “right” if Illinois does terribly than be happy that they are doing well. Either a bad fan or a troll.

Lou-a-villini February 17th, 2013

I think I’ve figured out his identity….. J.J. “Putz”

illiniranger February 17th, 2013

spot on post. the biggest issues that our fball and bball teams have had over the last 5-ish years is a culture of losing. JG seems to be building a culture of winning, and to his credit, stuck to his guns and kept encouraging Tyler and DJ.