CHAMPAIGN - John Groce was due some good news on the injury front.
After a tough 13 months of injuries -- including two season-ending injuries for team captain and point guard Tracy Abrams -- the Illinois basketball coach finally got some uplifting news last week when doctors ruled that the stress fracture in Jalen Coleman-Lands’ lower left leg had fully healed and that the freshman guard could “begin the process of progressing back to basketball activities.”
“That was a blessing,” Groce said Tuesday on the "Tay and J Show" on WSJK-ESPN Radio 93.5 in Champaign. “Obviously, Jalen body healed there even better than we could’ve imagined, which was great. I’m one of those guys that believes that the good Lord had something to do with that as well. We’re fortunate there. He’s a good kid. I’m happy for him.”
Coleman-Lands -- who was in a walking boot the last four months -- is working with the team’s athletic trainer, Paul Schmidt, and strength and conditioning coach, Adam Fletcher, to build up his conditioning and the strength in his left calf muscle.
Once both improve, Groce said the 6-foot-3 freshman “should be good to go” for team practices.
“We are excited to get J Cole back here at some point,” Groce said. “Once he gets his conditioning at a certain level and we increase the strength of the calf muscle and the size of it then he’ll be cleared here sooner than later. It’s not necessarily a timeline thing. It’s more like when his body is ready. We don’t anticipate that taking too terribly long, which is a good thing.”
Coleman-Lands -- ranked the No. 42 prospect in the Scout 100 for the Class of 2015 -- is the highest-ranked recruit signed by Groce at Illinois and was expected to make an immediate impact. The Indiana native, one of the top shooters in his recruiting class, is expected to add a big scoring complement to juniors Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, as well as sophomore forward Leron Black (a breakout candidate after a strong offseason).
“First of all, (Coleman-Lands is) a really mature kid for his grade or age, which is a good thing,” Groce said. “I think he has a great voice. He’s very, very competitive. He brings, obviously, elite level shooting and he really defends the ball well.”
While Coleman-Lands’ return to the court is now likely a “when” rather than an “if”, the freshman must get caught up to speed -- not only physically, but mentally.
Coleman-Lands practiced with the team for only two weeks before suffering the injury and most of those practices were individual instruction and small-group sessions.
While most of his teammates participated in 10 practices and four games on a European tour this summer, Coleman-Lands has no on-court scrimmage experience within the team’s offensive and defensive schemes.
“I’ve not coached him in a five-on-five setting yet,” Groce said. “How quickly is he going to pick things up? I certainly understand he didn’t participate in the European practices and the European games and none of the fall training camp. There’s going to be a little bit of a curve there. We’ll certainly be patient with him and work with him.
“But for us to add a guy who shoots the ball the way he does, that’s as vocal as he is and as competitive as he is and as good of an on-ball defender as he is, I think is a real plus for our team.”