The List Grows Longer

Hope, potential and optimism grow exponentially for John Groce and his Illinois program.

CHAMPAIGN – Hope, potential and optimism grow exponentially for John Groce and his Illinois program.

There are plenty of reasons for Illini Nation to be excited. And the list grows longer and longer with each passing week, as Groce continues to do work to enhance a roster that is building toward first-rate status.

Transfers Ray Rice and Jon Ekey appear to be working out.

And freshmen Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill have flashed thus far.

And Aaron Cosby, Ahmad Starks and Darius Paul can play next season.

And Quentin Snider, Leron Black and Michael Finke will soon sign.

And Cliff Alexander is still a possibility.

And the latest good bit of news came Tuesday morning; D.J. Williams became the first verbal commit for the 2015 class. That group could comprise the greatest chunks of talent, potential and awesome to date in Groce's tenure.

I wouldn't bet against the second-year coach. Not now.

Everything is coming together for Groce and Illinois. It's starts with the head coach and his well-put-together staff. All those guys are logging long hours, using past connections and pushing the right buttons. Paris Parham is the go-to in Chicago and was at Alexander's open gym last week. Dustin Ford speaks via telephone with Carlton Bragg's family and mentor multiple times a week. And Jamall Walker played college ball with Jayson Tatum's father and has given the Illini an early chance with one of the best in the 2016 class. These are but a few of the examples.

Further, Groce & Company has plenty to point to when selling the university and program. We all know what a degree from Illinois represents. And now renovations to the State Farm Center will move facilities into the positive pile. Groce took his team to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his first season in charge. In what has been called by some a "rebuilding year" this season, the team was picked to finish seventh in the conference – where it did last season.

Groce isn't rebuilding. He's reloading. Speaking at Big Ten Media Day last week in Chicago, he spoke about all the great things Illinois has going for it.

"You put all those things together and I think that's where excitement – it's not necessarily just one thing," Groce said. "It's all those things that have created an excitement and momentum right now that our program has and we want to continue to keep it heading in that trajectory."

Recruiting is always the best indicator. The 2013 class finished ranked 20th in the country. The current cycle sits at No. 18, with Alexander representing a potential huge bump up the list. Next year's group is already off and running. Williams, the four-star small forward from Chicago's Simeon High, was the first. He won't be the last.

At least once a month I write a little something about how good of a job Groce is doing.

And… the best is yet to be.

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