During his first media availability since sophomore Leron Black's arrest late Thursday, Illinois basketball coach John Groce said Saturday that the incident was "not a true reflection of what I've seen prior with (Black's) character." But Groce added that he and the program take "seriously" the felony charge of aggravated assault.
Black, who has played just seven games this season due to a knee injury, is suspended indefinitely from team activities.
"For us, the most important thing is to honor the legal process and to allow itself to take its course," Groce said Saturday afternoon on a previously scheduled teleconference to preview Sunday's game at Wisconsin. "At the same time, in terms of my thoughts on it and where it stands right now, one this is not representative of obviously what we want to be about or even what he's about as I've gotten to know him and have a deep relationship with him now for some time. It's not a true reflection of what I've seen prior with his character. He's been an outstanding young man to this point.
Black is accused of a Class 4 felony for threatening a bouncer at the Canopy Club, an Urbana nightclub, with a folding knife that had a three-to-four inch blade. This occurred after a fight broke out inside around midnight and staff members tried to remove guests involved. On Friday, Black plead not guilty to a charge of aggravated assault at his arraignment hearing at the Champaign County Courthouse on Friday at 1:30 p.m
"Obviously, the decision or choice that he made the other not was a bad one," Groce said. "It's a mistake. He and I have talked. It was not a good choice. We take it seriously. He and I will continue to have discussions and we'll try to support him in the best way that we can while at the same time honoring the accountability piece in this."
Black was represented Friday by attorney Mark Lipton, who argued for a reasonable bond based on Black's lack of a criminal history and potential for punishment by the team. Judge John Kennedy set the bond at $5,000 and Black's pre-trial court date is set for April 19 at 11:00 a.m.
"In terms of where that ultimately heads, a lot of that we'll know more once the legal process takes its course," Groce said. "...We're talking about a couple months here. That's kind of where it's at. I don't see it changing a whole lot between now and then. So this will be the last time obviously that I comment on it until this legal process takes its course."
According to the police report, Black was with a group of people who were involved in the fight. He was upset that the security staff elected to kick them out, and it was also reported that he didn't like how they treated his girlfriend. If convicted, Black faces penalties including probation, a fine up to $25,000 and one-to-three years imprisonment. The case has been assigned to Judge Harry Clem.
Black's girlfriend was present at the arraignment hearing, but no one from the Illinois basketball program was in attendance.
Groce chose not to answer questions on whether former Illini Darius Paul's previous issues will shape how he responds to Black's first incident or how the university will handle Black's alleged misconduct.
Paul was kicked off the team this summer after his second arrest in two years. Paul was charged in August with vandalism, public intoxication and resisting arrest in France while the team was on its foreign trip (Paul was sitting out with a shoulder injury). He had been charged in the spring of 2014, while he was sitting out due to transfer rules, for underage drinking and resisting arrest. Illinois suspended Paul for the 2014-15 season, which he spent at a Texas junior college.
Other Illinois players earned suspensions while they were inactive. Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby were suspended for three games last season after violating team rules during a team road trip to Minnesota. Both Rice and Cosby were nursing injuries at the time.
Groce was asked if players sitting out are more likely to have trouble off the court.
"Is it hard when you go through an injury when you're out for a very extended period of time when that's never happened to you before? In my experience do I think that's difficult mentally? Yeah, I think it is," Groce said. "Is that abnormal? You hear stories all the time about professional athleties that unfortunately when their career are over, the sport they were playing or what they were doing defined who they were as a person in some cases and then they don't know what to do with themselves. That's hard. I don't think that's something that's hard for just guys that we've had to deal with injuries.
"A lot of these guys have been basketball players. I try to explain to them that they're people first that play basketball. They're not a basketball player who happens to be a person. Do I think that's harder for some guys to understand than other s when sometimes you place your identity and what you do? Can that be tempting? Especially when you're 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 years old? Yeah, certainly. I'm not going to sit here and say it's easy for those guys. Are guys thrilled that they're out for seasons and large parts of seasons? Does every guy I coach deal with that the perfect way? In fact, I think most of them struggle a bit mentally with that. Obviously, that's what we're here for. We're here to help them."
Derek Piper contributed to this report.