Oct. 25, 2012
Illinois coach John Groce and seniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were in Chicago on Thursday for the annual Big Ten Basketball Media Day at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare. Below is video and a transcript of Groce's press conference.
THE MODERATOR: Our final Coach is Illinois head coach John Groce. He enters his first year with the Fighting Illini program, and he inherits nine letter winners from last year's team.
John Groce: Well, the biggest thing thus far is our players have been terrific from their effort, attitude, they're excited. It's been maybe as fun as any time I've been in coaching to go to practice. They're excited to be there, they're passionate, they want to learn, they have exceeded my expectations in that regard.
That part has been really neat. Obviously the development of some of our guys from spring to fall as you're learning about your players is rapidly as we have, over the course of seven months, that part has been fun. Our staff has done a great job working with the kids and I have three position coaches that work with the position groups, so just the improvement that the guys have made in a short period of time has been exciting as well, so practice is going well.
I feel like we're getting better every day, we have a long way to go, but we're going to keep working at it and let the chips fall.
Q. Can you talk about who you have seen improvement from? There were a lot of guys who didn't see a lot of playing time last year, so talk about who you have seen improvement from.
John Groce: The guy who's stood out the most is Nnanna Egwe. Nnanna made 20,000 shots on his own this summer, eight weeks of school. He's watching films, watching DVDs, you will see him early in the morning. Sometimes I will ask him if he wants the lights on, he is shooting in the dark, and he loves the game, can't get enough of it.
I told him the other day, everything that you get the way he's playing right now, he played well the another night in our orange/blue scrimmage, "You've earned it." His attitude, his effort has been off the charts.
I think Myke Henry has made a significant jump, he's been our leading rebounder in the scrimmage on Monday night. He's a little bit undersized at 6 6, but as a knack for the ball. He's shot a high percentage, he picks up things quickly, so he's gotten better. I think Abrams and Brandon Paul understand more what we expect out of the point guard position, those guys have gotten better. Tracy Abrams is probably more natural, but Brandon is willing to listen and get better and balance playing that position as well as the two.
We have asked him to make the sacrifice for this team because we feel like that's what we need, so those guys have gotten better. Joseph Bertrand is shooting over 50 percent from the three in practice, and he's not been known in the past as a jump shooter. He's worked hard and has been getting better.
The one thing that's exceeded even our expectations is how hungry they've been, how excited they have been, how hard they work, how much they're in the gym. You love going to practice and coaching this team because they're hungry. That part has been neat and a lot of those guys I've just mentioned have improved over the course of the seven months since our staff has been at Champaign.
Q. Brandon Paul has been inconsistent over the last few years. What are you expecting out of him and how have you worked with him to find consistency in his game?
John Groce: I think the biggest thing is the mental side for him. People ask me what we expect out of him. He's a guy right now that I'm talking a lot to about making guys around him better. Who did you touch today? Who did you help today? Who did you help to get to play at a different, higher level, who are you helping? I think that's a big thing with him and the consistency piece you just hit on.
I use the Pat Riley quote with him: "Coaches will take consistency over greatness any day of the week." How do you do that? I think you do that by understanding every practice matters, every rep matters, every little thing that we do matters. That's how you become more consistent at what you do, and he's embraced that.. I've seen him embrace it at a higher level as we move forward, and I'm hoping that bodes well for him in terms of the consistency piece.
Q. How does your previous experience in the Big Ten as an assistant help you now?
John Groce: Well, it helps from the standpoint of the appreciation of the league. Obviously I think right now our league has great stability and continuity, a lot of players returning, we had a great year last year as a league. The depth of the league is maybe, you know, a little deeper than it was during my last tenure, if you will, in the Big Ten as an assistant or associate head coach. I think that makes it even more challenging.
I think there is no question that having been in the league before certainly helps. I think the experience that I had at Ohio helps a lot as well, to be honest, going through that and understanding that it does take time, that the learning curve right now when I'm dealing with our 14 players from the standpoint of what they are trying to learn and what we're wanting to do, it's like having 14 freshmen, 14 new guys.
Being patient, being more detailed and repeating things and understanding that repetition builds mastery and slowing things down for them, that experience helped me as much or more quite honestly than my previous stint in the league in terms of how we're handling this team.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. Best of luck this year.