Paris Parham wanted to coach Illinois basketball.
"Sometimes I still walk in here and can't believe I'm here. It's definitely a dream job. I really can't explain how I feel coming in here every day."
A few Chicago teenage prima donnas may snub their state school, but many Chicagoans would love to play and/or work in Champaign. Parham was one of them.
"This job is more than a blessing. When you're from Chicago and grow up playing ball there, there are some nice schools and nice conferences. But the U of I was in the Big 10. The Big 10 has always been one of the top two or three conferences in the country year in and year out. You want to have an opportunity to play there.
"I would probably crawl from Chicago on my knees backwards to play at the University of Illinois. Just do anything to get here. So having an opportunity now to come in and make a mark with the coaching staff and try to build the program back up to where it needs to be, a place where kids are excited to come to, I'm just ecstatic."
Parham has his dream job, but the actual process was fraught with uncertainty and disappointment along the way. When Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich left for SMU, the new head coach didn't retain Parham. He was in a state of limbo for awhile.
"Not being employed at the time, it was a little rough for me. But I just did what I usually do and watched a lot of basketball at a bunch of tournaments and camps. I kept myself busy.
"Me and Coach Jankovich talked about this at the time. I feel like for me, the stars were aligned, however you want to put it. It's a blessing to be here, and it was a testament. I was very patient. I had some other job opportunities, but I just wanted to make sure I was patient enough for the right spot."
Patience was especially necessary since Isaac Chew was hired for the job he now enjoys. He explains the process that led to his hiring.
"Initially when the job opened up and the new staff came in, I reached out to (Illini assistant) Jamall Walker. I've known him for awhile through the business. And I knew of the staff when Illinois State played them at Ohio."
Then unexpectedly two months later, Chew left for Marquette.
"I thought the job was done, and I was disappointed because I really wanted to be here. I had some good talks with Jamall and thought I'd have a chance to come in and talk to Coach Groce. It didn't happen that way.
"But by the grace of God I would say, someone moved out. That's when I got in contact with Coach Groce and some other guys on the staff."
This time, the process favored him and brought his dream into reality.
"My feelings from the first time he called was, 'This isn't really happening. I can't believe I'm going to have this opportunity.'
"Once he called we talked, and I let him know how interested I was in the job. He said he had mutual interest in me and had heard some good things about me. We took it from there."
Leave out all the twists and turns, and Parham states his life has followed a logical sequence of events.
"If things are to go in progression, you learn to crawl, you learn to walk, you learn to run, you jump. You play in the Public League, play at Lincoln College and go somewhere else to play.
"You become a college coach, get some head-coaching experience. You go to Chicago to coach in the Public League. You get an assistant coaching job at Illinois State University, then you get to come to the University of Illinois. That's like one, two, three, four, five, six, seven."
Parham believes he brings important intangibles to the job that are necessary for team success.
"I think the most important thing is the guys you have on campus. It's making sure you have their minds right. You want to make sure the kids are all on the same page.
"So I think one of my main strengths is outside of the court. The court can sometimes handle itself. It's all about, can you get all the kids to buy in to what's going on?
"I try to pride myself on that, talking to kids, keeping relationships open. I think my biggest job will be, if Coach Groce said the sky is orange with blue dots in it, I've got to make those guys believe it."
Groce hires versatile coaches who can make contributions in all facets of the job. Parham seems to fit that mold.
"I've done scouting reports, I've worked with guards. I worked with big guys before in another program. Overall, I was a point guard in high school and college. So I'm real comfortable with the perimeter guys.
"I think I'll be working with the wings. Other than that, just day-to-day grinding work. I just try to come in and get better at something every day."
Illinois State and Illinois flew together to Cancun for a November tournament last season. And the Illini earned a close, hard-fought victory over the Redbirds. This allowed Parham an introduction to Illini players. But he knew some of them already.
"It was funny coming over here for my interview. A lot of these guys were in eighth grade when I was at Morgan Park High School. You're not really supposed to recruit in high school, but we were watching them. So it's kind of funny being with them now.
"You know a lot of the players, especially in the Chicago area. But I spent a lot of time with the guys in Cancun last year. So I got to know them a bunch and can joke about our game. We joke that I don't think our guy stepped out of bounds, but it doesn't matter now.
"I haven't really had a chance to see them work out a whole lot, just getting here. But one thing I know of. I know this coaching staff, and the things we've talked about in my conversations with Coach Groce, we are going to work every day to get the guys better. It's just constant work, work, work to get better skill development, better as a team, better chemistry and a better foundation of getting better."
The Illini have not always recruited well in Chicago. Indeed, many of the elite prospects have been lured elsewhere. Parham is expected to provide a bridge for the entire Illini coaching staff in their efforts to recruit Chicago players. He went into detail about that situation, but only after reminding the importance of the entire state of Illinois in recruiting.
"First of all, not just Chicago but the entire state. You want to make sure you cover your base first. With us being in this state, the biggest school in the state and being THE state school, you want to be sure you turn over all the rocks that you can and look under every bridge. Get everything covered in your state before you go out other places.
"We'll go recruit other places, but Chicago is important to me because I'm from there. I played in the Public League, coached in the Public League and recruited there all my life since I've been coaching. Once we get that excitement back, it's gonna really help us out a lot."
Chicago is famous for its factions. Subgroups compete with each other for dominance, and opinion leaders from one may never reconcile with their counterparts. But Parham is known for his ability to flow smoothly between the groups, allowing a more complete type of access rarely if ever seen at Illinois previously.
"It's been an easy thing for me, being from Chicago. I come from a huge family of basketball players. Even before Paris Parham was thought of, my dad had nine brothers, and they all played basketball. They played all over the city, and a bunch of them played college. And they all worked in the community. So the name was well known.
"For me to go into different parts of the city, I'm from the South side of Chicago, and they say if you're from the South side, you shouldn't be able to go to the West side and have a relationship. But from my family's background and me trying to go out and be a good person and treat people the right way, (it was different for me)."
Having coached in the Chicago Public League makes a difference.
"I think the biggest thing that helped me throughout my career was going back and coaching high school basketball. I think they gained a respect for me because I have respect for them, knowing all they must deal with those kids on an everyday basis."
Parham and his fellow coaches will be traveling to a number of national AAU events to evaluate and show interest in their top recruiting prospects. They are behind for 2013 recruiting due to their late start, but Parham feels Groce and his other assistants have made major headway since arriving on campus.
"The other members of the coaching staff got here two months ago. Nowadays the recruiting process is so accelerated, so there is a lot of groundwork to be made up. But I think these guys did a great job of coming in, rolling up their sleeves and hitting the ground running.
"Now with me here, I think it's going to add some help only because of my relationships with a lot of coaches. We have 20-25+ years of friendships outside of basketball. It kind of helps because now they know my character, they know who I am. They know how I feel about the kids.
"I know the things they will do and won't do with their kids. So it kind of helps in that way, just so we don't have to navigate some of the stuff that happens in big cities with basketball."
Media wouldn't let Parham escape without asking his view of why Chicago has been a difficult place for Illini coaches to recruit. He can only speculate.
"I think one of the reasons might be because of the bright lights. You're in a city where there's every professional sport, and baseball has two. And you have a downtown that lights up the world. The kids dream big.
"When you get some of these places now where guys get to leave after one year consistently, at the end of the day every kid dreams of someday playing in the NBA.
"But I don't see why this isn't the place. There've been a number of NBA guys that came from Chicago or the state of Illinois and came to this University, were drafted or hired as free agents and had a lot of success. It's just something we have to build to make the 'I' sexy. We're willing to work to do that.
"One thing we know for sure. There's not a program in the country that doesn't send at least one guy at least one part of the year to Chicago. For us being the state school, it's kind of a compliment because everybody wants to come in and get our kids."
Each individual athlete is different. Some want the state school as strongly as some want to leave.
"I can't really say the reason why. When you get a high-profile kid, sometimes for some people high-profile is what you make it. You take Dee Brown. He was a high-profile kid and an All-American. He wanted to stay in the state, and he did great. He had a great career and won a lot of games. He loved this place.
"There are other kids who down the line are going to want to fulfill that. At the end of the day, you are only represented by wins and losses. I think if we can get kids to buy into it and get the power of the 'I' back, you make it something that kids want to be a part of. We'll be okay with that."
One way or the other, Parham and the other coaches are looking for the best players regardless of their location.
"As a coaching staff, whether it's a top player from this area or a player who might not be good enough, we'll recruit them all the same. If they're on our list, we're gonna go after them. Try to get the program in a better place."
Parham will need time to get his feet on the ground, but he provides assets that can benefit the Illini basketball program for years to come.