Q&A: Coach John Groce

AUSTIN, Texas - Coach John Groce discusses his team and the NCAA Tournament matchup with Colorado.

AUSTIN, Texas - Coach John Groce discusses his team and the NCAA Tournament matchup with Colorado.

COACH GROCE: Well, obviously I'm excited for the University of Illinois and for our basketball program, our seniors, our players, that we have an opportunity to be in -- I said all along, it's the world's greatest tournament. But we're not just excited to be here. Now we are here, we took step one, we have worked very diligently all week in preparation for tomorrow's game against Colorado, a very good basketball team. And now step two is trying to put ourselves in position to survive and advance. We have looked at it one game at a time all year, we're going to continue to do that. Our total focus is on Colorado. Obviously, for us, we feel like it starts with rebounding. They are a terrific rebounding team. We have got our work cut out for us on the glass. But guys are looking forward to the challenge. And we're enjoying the experience, but at the same time not totally swallowing it either because we know we have got a game to play tomorrow at 3:40.

Q. Apparently there's talk that Roberson will match Paul at the start of this game. I wonder if you would just describe the challenge that Andre Roberson provides because of his length and his rebounding ability and the multiple things that he does well.

COACH GROCE: Well, it doesn't surprise me, because he's done that all year. He's guarded the other team's best offensive player a lot. He's, he obviously is defensive Player of the Year in PAC-12 for a reason. But I want to make one thing crystal clear. It's not Roberson versus Paul tomorrow and Paul versus Roberson, it's Illinois versus Colorado. I think that Brandon, as an older player, understands that. Obviously he's an important part of what we do, just like Roberson is an important part of what Colorado does. So we'll take that for what its worth. In terms of his talents and abilities, I think obviously everyone talks about his motor, his length, his ability to anticipate, to get deflections, whether it's steals or blocked shots. But the thing I appreciated the most watching him is his intelligence. I think in addition to all those intangibles that I just talked about that he has on the defensive end, I think his IQ's tremendous. I watch him on film and then to see how he anticipates, his vision, which also makes him a great defender.

Q. I think it was Tom Izzo who said after the Big-10 tournament how relieved he was to see a team that's not in the Big-10 win the tournament game. Do you feel the same way?

COACH GROCE: No question. Obviously it was a lot of fun though. It was a tremendous challenge all 18 games, plus the Big-10 tournament. I think you learn a lot playing against the competition that we played against, the venues where we played, different styles that we played, the different coaching philosophies and coaching styles as well. So it was great. We learned a lot about our team. And we certainly wouldn't, we would do it all over again. It was an exciting race. But now we moved on to -- season three for us was the Big-10 tournament, season four is the NCAA tournament, and now our focus is on Colorado.

Q. John, is it different for you playing with Illinois than it was when you were a double digit seed at Ohio?

COACH GROCE: Yeah, I've been asked that. Our preparation has been very similar. Our mindset's the same. Last year we were looking at our first round opponent and saying, what do we have to do to survive and advance against that particular opponent. That's no different this year than approaching the Colorado game tomorrow. I do think the experiences that we have had in the past in the tournament has certainly been helpful. There's no question about it. I know it's helped us, helped me. Just little things, in terms of how you plan itinerary and when you practice and how long and all those different things over the years that you learn by being a part of the tournament. So from that standpoint, grateful for those opportunities.

Q. When you took over this program, did you talk NCAA tournament with this group right away or did you want to see how they responded to you guys and vice versa or how did the season progress?

COACH GROCE: Honestly, the first thing I wanted to do was kind of evaluate where we are in a lot of areas. Just kind of listen and watch and get to know our players. That was the No. 1 thing. I spent a lot of time with those guys as our assistant coach he's did as well. I'm one of those guys that really believes you can't coach your players unless you know your players. So it's their team. I've told them that all along. I feel blessed to have a chance to be at Illinois, it's one of the greatest institutions in the country. I feel grateful to have a chance to coach this group. And I really wanted to get to know them and find out, what do you guys want to do. Obviously, one of their goals, they wanted to have a chance to get into this tournament. Knowing, as I instructed them and told them, hey, to have a chance to survive and advance in the tournament, you have to be in it first. They were able to do that through a lot of, quite honestly, our guys call them doubters and haters. There were a lot. There were a lot early. And then we got off to a great start and then there was a lot after we got into the rough patch there in the Big-10 schedule. But they stayed the course. I appreciate the way they fought. We never deviated. We stuck to the plan. The guys showed great poise. And we just kept learning and getting a little bit better and getting a little bit better and we were able to put ourselves in a position where we have an opportunity to play tomorrow against Colorado.

Q. What are you doing -- with so many seniors, what are you doing to try to keep them loose instead of thinking about tomorrow could be their last game?

COACH GROCE: If you would have went to dinner with us last night you wouldn't have worried about loose. They were loose last night at dinner. They were loose on the bus. My secretary has traveled with us for this particular trip and she said to me, how often are they like that? And I said, oh, about all the time. So we're -- we say all the time in this time of year and in general, we want to be mentally focused or tight, but physically loose. And I think we have got guys that are that way. Our assistant coaches do a great job of talking to them, and again, it gets back to knowing your guys. Knowing what works for them. And our group is, I think for the most part, been a pretty confident and loose group.

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