Illini B-ball Seeks Leaders Via Recruiting

Leadership is essential on any quality team. The Fighting Illini basketball program suffered from a lack of leadership the last three years, and new coach John Groce is working to correct that oversight. He talks about recruiting for leadership and defining roles precisely so everyone can provide positive input to the team's success.

A vast majority of humans are followers; they prefer to follow someone else's leadership. But if they find no leadership at the top, many try to take over. Unfortunately, they may not understand a leader's true role and do things that are counterproductive to the success of the program.

Illinois basketball coach John Groce likes to recruit dominant players who can lead teammates on the floor and off. He needs players who are confident in battle and won't wilt when the going gets tough. Groce is looking for a mixture of personality types on his teams, but among them must be a few natural leaders.

"I think you have to have a blend. You have to have a leader on your team. You need two or three guys to lead. You need to recruit guys with a leader personality. Leading by example is more important than leading verbally, but if you have both, those are great qualities.

"You have to take inventory of how much you have on your team. Do you have any at all? Do you have guys with that potential to be an extension of you in the locker room?

"They spend more time together without you than they do with you as the coach. So you have to have people in that locker room that are echoing your message of what we're about both on and off the court. Those guys are leaders, and I think you've got to have that in your locker room, there's no doubt about it."

Does the present Illini team have adequate leadership?

"It remains to be seen. I think the guy right now that guys really respect, and he's earned it from what I've seen over eight weeks, is Tracy Abrams. He's a tough kid, he's a winner, he competes every day, he cares about the team.

"I know that he has a lot of those qualities that you look for in a leader. Someone who can lead not only by example but also verbally. So it's great that we have him. Who else? At this point, the jury is still out."

It is often said, "Many are called, but few are chosen." In other words, many people want to be leaders, but few actually do what is best for their fellow man when their help is needed most. Groce wants his team to understand the difference.

"I tell guys all the time, you're not a leader unless you look over your right or left shoulder and someone's following you. You can say you're a leader, but if you have no followers, you're not leading.

"Right now, I think our guys really respect Tracy and follow him. They respect what he says and how he does things. So I know we have at least one, and we're hoping to figure out if we've got a couple more. I do think you can grow into that role as well. We'll see if we have a couple guys who can grow into that role."

Groce talks a lot about defining roles. Leadership is extremely important, but it does not make one person better than another. Everyone has an equally important role to play.

"Everyone talks about a 'role player.' Some guys take offense to that. My point to the guys is that everybody is a role player, including me. I've got a role, Jamall (Walker) has a role on the staff, Dustin (Ford) has a role on the staff, Tracy Abrams has a role on our team, Brandon Paul has a role on our team.

"Everybody is a role player. Everyone's role is different, but that doesn't mean anyone's role is more valuable than the guy to their left or to their right. That's what they have to understand. Everyone's role or part is critical to our success.

"We've got to be accountable to one another, that we take our roles seriously. And that we do our best every day to execute our role within what we're doing to make Illinois basketball as successful as possible.

"Once you get that type of buy-in, the team can take off. But not only do you have to get to the point where their roles are defined, the guys have to accept them.

"And they can't just accept them, they have to embrace them... jump in with two feet and understand that everybody has to make sacrifices and play their role for the team, including myself. That's something we'll be talking about a lot with our teams moving forward."

Groce uses statistical analysis frequently when studying his team and his opponents. He discusses some of the stats that are especially important to him in part seven of his nine-part interview.

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