PEORIA -- Illini head coach John Groce sat courtside at the IHSA 3A semifinals at the Peoria Civic Center on Friday, but meanwhile, another one of his players was at a different kind of court back in Champaign.
Junior guard Kendrick Nunn plead not guilty to domestic battery charges at his arraignment hearing on Friday afternoon - following his Thursday arrest. Nunn became the third Illini basketball player to be arrested in the last month, and the second in the last week.
Fellow junior Jaylon Tate was also arrested on a domestic battery charge last Saturday, and he plead not guilty in court on Monday. Illini sophomore forward Leron Black was arrested on a felony aggravated assault charge on Feb. 20, and he plead not guilty as well.
The justice system guarantees innocence in the eyes of the law until proven guilty. But the recurring off-court (or in-court) issues have been alarming and not a good look for program perception.
Groce would like to keep the pledge of confidence he received from athletic director Josh Whitman, while also working to gain more pledges in the all-important 2017 class. He already has a commitment from four-star Peoria Manual guard Da'Monte Williams, but Williams couldn't deny that the recent happenings have been concerning.
"It's a little bit concerning," Williams said after his game on Friday. "I know they're good guys, but it's probably with who they're surrounding themselves with."
Williams added that he has full confidence in Groce and his staff going forward.
"Oh yeah, good confidence," he said. "I don't think they're going nowhere."
After watching Williams (two points) and Peoria Manual fall 45-41 against Lincoln-Way West, Groce watched Jordan Goodwin lead Belleville Althoff with 25 points and 15 rebounds in a 66-62 win over St. Joseph. Goodwin is arguably the best player in the state right now, and he commented on the Illini situation as well.
"I don't think that has anything to do with me. My mom and dad are going to look at it differently though," Goodwin said. "I know my mom is for sure."
Goodwin also said that he feels it's on the players to make the right decisions.
"Coach (Greg) Leib teaches us that we have to make our own decisions. We have to manage our own mistakes," he said. "Like Coach tells us, if we get in trouble, he's going to talk to us and see what we can do differently. That's the same thing Coach Groce is probably doing with them. At that stage, you're a man."
Fellow Belleville product Javon Pickett committed to Illinois back in January. Like Goodwin and Williams, Pickett was a first-team All-State selection by the Associated Press earlier this week. Pickett spent Friday afternoon with Illini junior Malcolm Hill at Belleville East, and Pickett told IlliniInquirer.com that the arrests have not changed his perception of Illinois.
Four-star 2016 Illini signee Te'Jon Lucas echoed the same feelings.
"It's shocking it happened, but I think I can control myself from not making those mistakes," he said.
Lucas added that his confidence in Groce has never wavered.
"Never doubted him. I'm excited to get on campus soon," he said.
The Illini already have Lucas, Pickett and Williams sold on the program and its future. The key is continuing that sell, and that centers around Goodwin and five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon. Illinois has been in a good spot with Tilmon recently, and they are trying to close the deal this spring.
Tilmon's mom, April, was reached for a reaction but she elected to have "no comment at this time".