New Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman made his first major coaching decision on Saturday morning -- though not his last -- and the decision was not to make a change.
Whitman on Saturday morning told Loren Tate and Michael Kiser on WDWS-1400 AM that John Groce will remain the Illini basketball coach.
He reiterated his support on Saturday afternoon at his press conference announcing the dismissal of football coach Bill Cubit.
"I'm very confident in John's leadership of our basketball program," Whitman said. "I've a chance to sit and visit with him at some length over the last couple weeks, and I feel really good about the leadership that he's giving to our young men. Obviously, we've gone through a number of very difficult circumstances this year. We've been working through our facilities issues and also our injuries. So, I'm really excited about what the future looks like for that particular program."
In his fourth season at Illinois, Groce is 75-59 overall and 29-42 during Big Ten play. The Illini (13-17 overall, 5-12 Big Ten) have been ravaged by injuries this season. Seven players have missed a combined 89 games. The Illini close the season Sunday at Penn State.
Groce -- who is on the verge of missing his third straight NCAA Tournament, something that hasn't been done at Illinois since 1980 -- has three years remaining on his contract, which has a buyout of more than $1.5 million.
Groce has gained some recruiting momentum, landing top in-state prospects Javon Pickett and DaMonte Williams. The Illini also are among the top choices for five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon and four-star wing Jordan Goodwin. A change now likely would halt any chance of capitalizing on those efforts.
"We all understand that we have a big opportunity in front of us in terms of recruiting," Whitman said. "We have five or six scholarships coming available here over the next year.We have a great crop of perspective student-athletes. So if Coach Groce is going to be our coach, we want to make sure we provide him with the highest level of support that we can to position him to be successful."