John Groce to stay as Illinois coach, says new athletic director

One of the biggest questions of the coaching carousel this season was whether Illinois coach John Groce would get another season to try and turn around the fortunes of the basketball program in Champaign.

It looks like that will be the case.

In a radio interview on the WDWS radio station in Champaign, new Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman announced that Groce will “continue” as basketball coach.

“I think it’s important today that folks understand that John Groce is going to continue to be our basketball coach,” Whitman said. “He’s a first-class individual and an excellent leader. He’s a student of basketball and leadership and I feel really comfortable with the leadership he’s given our guys.”

Whitman fired Illinois football coach Bill Cubit on Saturday — his first official day as athletic director — just four months after Cubit had the interim tag removed from his title. That meant attention was turned squarely onto Groce, whose job security has become a talking point in previous weeks.

It’s been a trying year in Illinois this season, as the Illini’s record has suffered due to injuries and dismissals. The team is currently 13-17 with one game remaining in the regular season.

Overall, Groce is 75-59 in nearly four complete seasons at the helm. However, his win totals have diminished every season, and his team has not made the NCAA Tournament since the first season he was there in 2013. The 44-year-old was considered a rising star after leading Ohio to the Sweet 16 back in 2012, but there were some serious questions about whether or not he would get another year at the helm after the way the team has struggled this season.

It’s worth noting though that Groce returns a lot of talent from this year’s team, including Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn and freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands. The team is also going to pursue medical hardship waivers for seniors Mike Thorne and Tracy Abrams. Plus, while the group does not have much in the way of strong recruits for next season due to the amount of returning players on scholarship, Groce did receive a commitment from DaMonte Williams, the best guard in the state of Illinois in the 2017 class, last week.

If things don’t turn around next season, it’s probably pretty fair to assume that Groce will not return. But given the scholarship situation for next season, it might make sense to let this play out and see if Groce can engine a turnaround involving the kids that he was responsible for bringing into Champaign.

John Groce will get one more year to turn around Illinois. (USATSI)
John Groce will get one more year to turn around Illinois. (USATSI)

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