Illinois basketball coach John Groce faces a tremendously difficult 2012-2013 schedule. He will work to add more nonconference games at the Assembly Hall for future seasons, but this year's schedule is already set.
"The game schedule is a bear. We recognize at this point in time, the next year or two years, may be leaking into the third year a little bit, we just don't have enough home games. We played less nonconference home games than any team in the Big 10 the last five years. We want to get to the point where we can control our schedule more.
"We have a great season ticket base here, and a great environment in the Assembly Hall with our students. We're gonna work to get them moving in that direction as quickly as possible.
"In the meantime, the schedule is very, very challenging. We are going to be challenged early, so we'll get a chance to learn a lot about our team."
Coaches always seek to find a the silver lining behind dark clouds, and Groce is no exception. But to reach his goals, he must make sure the pressures of the job do not mount on him to the point where he can't give his best effort. Can he get away from it all at times to recharge batteries and get fresh perspectives?
"I took about 4 1/2 to 5 days off. That was the time I was hiring a staff position, so I probably spent half that time with family making reference calls, Googling, researching. So it wasn't a true break.
"I got a couple of days over the Fourth where I got to spend time with my family. And then in August, it'll be my wife's and my 10th anniversary. We'll go somewhere for a few days.
"But this first year on the job, you're not thinking about vacations, you're thinking about rolling up your sleeves every day. How do we keep this thing advancing and moving forward?"
Groce has an active mind that operates at near light speed. That is often an advantage for him, but he still needs to find constructive ways to give his mind a break from job pressures once in awhile.
"That's hard for me. One of the biggest things for me in a job transition is balance. My wife and two kids are very important to me. Faith is really important to me. I probably haven't had as much balance in those areas over the past three months because you feel like you're drinking water out of the fire hose every day. But I look forward to getting to that point.
"That's one of my weaknesses. I've got to do a better job of having some balance."
One possible escape valve for the Illinois mentor is golf. When he's working on his golf game, he is getting fresh air, exercise, and mentally focusing on something far removed from basketball. Unfortunately, there's no time for golf right now.
"I said I'm not playing this year. I'm not gonna play until next spring; I don't have time. If I've got time to golf 4 1/2 hours, then I've got time to throw a baseball with my six-year-old.
"I'm not very good at golf, but I enjoy it enough that when I'm out there and start playing, I can get away mentally from the job. There are not very many things where I can do that. I still know that's not coming anytime soon, until next spring."
In the meantime, Groce will continue to work diligently on reaching his ambitious goals for the Illini basketball program.
"Obviously, our vision for the program is to grow the program to the point where we're consistently in that upper crust of the Big 10. Where we are a standard of excellence within the league.
"If that happens, then you're going to be a player on the national stage. It's gonna happen. You've got a chance to do some pretty special things.
Right now, are we there? No. We're gonna get there though. My mindset is, the quicker the better. That's what we're striving to do, through recruiting, through developing your players. You do that through coaching your team, developing your system, getting your men confident to play well at both ends.
"Once those things start taking shape, then you can take off. That's the goal, and our goal is to do that in as quick a fashion as we can.
"Coaches tend to be impatient. We've got to be aggressively patient. We're going to do this thing the right way and get this thing going. That is the vision that we have for our program."