Groce leaves Ohio U. to take over at Ilinois
CHAMPAIGN, ILL. | Fresh out of Taylor University in Indiana, John Groce once taught math at a smalltown high school while helping coach four basketball teams.
That hectic pace might be easy compared to the work that awaits him at Illinois.
Groce was introduced Thursday as the Illini’s coach, just days removed from leading Ohio University to the Sweet 16, the Bobcats’ deepest NCAA tournament run in nearly 50 years. He will be taking over a team that has missed the tournament three of the past five years.
With his wife and two young sons nearby, Groce,, 40, said he sees nothing but potential at Illinois
“I thought to myself, ‘Illinois, why not? Why can’t we become the standard for excellence among those Big Ten teams competing for championships, earning the right to do that?’ And by doing that you become a player on the national stage,” he said. “The answer was, we can.”
Asked about skepticism among some fans and others — after Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens passed up chances to take over at Illinois — Groce said he wasn’t surprised.
“If you don’t have thick skin in this profession, you’re in trouble,” he said. “There’s going to be skeptics.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari has taken Kentucky to the Final Four in each of the past two seasons after reaching the Elite Eight in 2010. The Wildcats will take on rival Louisville in the national semifinals Saturday.