On Saturday Illinois announced that they have parted ways with Head Coach John Groce. The news came on the heels of a first round loss in the Big Ten tournament which almost assuredly meant another year without making the NCAA Tournament for the program.
Illinois is a program with a very proud and passionate fanbase, and one that sits in the heart of one of the best recruiting states in the country.
In his time at Illinois Groce did a solid job on the recruiting trail. While he missed out on top kids from Chicago such as Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and Cliff Alexander, he did have success landing highly regarded prospects such as Jalen Coleman-Lands, Leron Black, in this upcoming class Jeremiah Tilmon.
However it wasn’t enough as Groce and the Illini failed to make the tournament enough, and the athletic department decided to move in another direction.
When it comes to recruiting, Illinois is a job with a lot of potential, but also a lot of challenges.
With facilities, the recently renovated State Farm Center is a very attractive thing to sell to recruits. It is a historic building, but one that is now extremely nice and also has a great atmosphere on game day. Also the Illini have a solid, though unspectacular, practice facility and weight room.
Overall the facilities are very good, even by lofty Big Ten standards, but not the elite of the elite like at Nebraska, Indiana, and Ohio State, and any incoming coach will know that.
In recruiting the biggest plus and the biggest minus is the city of Chicago. Chicago is about 150 miles from Champaign, and produces some of the best talent yearly of any city in the country. That is the good.
The bad is that the city can be very difficult to navigate on the recruiting trail. It is a complex area to recruit, and for a long time top kids from the city have shown not only a willingness to go away from home, but also a desire.
Given that there is so much pressure on the University of Illinois to land top kids from the city, and it is clear that the presence of Chicago can both be a blessing and a curse for the next Illinois coach.
Beyond that Champaign is only a few hours from Indianapolis, but has never had significant success recruiting the city. Instead the eastern St. Louis suburbs have been better to the school, and that is where the talent needs to be good in order for Illinois to consistently succeed if they can’t land the best from Chicago.
Though recruiting in the Windy City can be tricky, the point remains that Illinois does sit in fertile recruiting grounds and has the facilities necessary to be a major factor on the recruiting trail.
Currently Illinois has a top 10 class that the next coach will have to work to secure. Specifically five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon and four-star point guard Trent Frazier out of Florida.