Groce Firmly Delivers a Message

John Groce didn't hold back Saturday, firmly delivering the message that his program is building toward something greater.

CHAMPAIGN - Coach John Groce didn't appreciate the article and headline in Saturday's Chicago Sun-Times.

The Illinois head coach didn't keep his thoughts and feelings to himself, either.

'LOL ILL' was the headline, positioned with a picture capturing recruit Cliff Alexander at his press conference briefly picking up an Illinois hat before switching to Kansas.

The sub-heading read: 'Cliff Alexander's head fake puts Illinois college hoops in its place.'

Groce, standing at the podium in Memorial Stadium's press box following Saturday's football loss to Ohio State, firmly delivered his opinion about the direction his program is heading.

"I do want to address something," Groce said. "I understand there was an article written about Illinois basketball being put in it's place. I'm going to tell you what place it's in. It's in a great place. That's what place it's in. In the last 20 months, from the time we started, March 29th, 2012 until now, we have made strides and improvements in a lot of areas. The assistant coaches and the players that we had last year, as well as the ones that we have this year deserve a lot of credit for that. A lot of credit, in fact darn near all the credit, OK. They have initiated and ignited the switch that has given us an opportunity to build something special at the University of Illinois. The University of Illinois is the 24th ranked university, academically, in the world. We have five Final Fours. We have a renovation going on in our arena that's going to make it one of the finest in the country. We had a group of seniors last year that overachieved at a high level, that bought in and showed extraordinary level of commitment and passion and unity and integrity about how they do things. So if anyone wants to know what place Illinois college hoops is in right now, it's in a great place. Not a good place. A great place."

It's true the Illini didn't enjoy good times Friday. Illinois had a good chance of landing the five-star Alexander and already had top-flight point guard Quentin Snider committed and in line to officially join the class.

Neither ended up with Illinois as their future destination. Alexander opted for Kansas, signing Saturday morning. Snider backed out of his Illini pledge and faxed his LOI to Louisville Friday.

What could have been one of the best recruiting classes in school history took a one-two punch that sent the fan base to the mat.

But that doesn't change what he's building, according to Groce. He softened his tone when talking about the players who did sign -- Michael Finke and Leron Black.

"They embody in every way, shape or form as to what we define as an Illini guy," Groce said. "We're really thrilled to have them joined us."

Groce then said he would't talk about any other players in the class, only those that aligned themselves with him.

And so the message was fired back loud and clear -- the recruiting class didn't finish with the best possible outcome. But that's not nearly enough to rattle Groce's vision and belief in his program.

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