Groce Is The Coach Illini Fans Have Been Waiting For

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino and John Calipari.

Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and, yes, Bill Self.

You know their schools, of course. But more than that, you know their names. The old saying goes that in college you play for the name on the front of the jersey, while in the pros you play for the name on the back.

I agree with that adage. But I also believe that in college basketball, star players commit to a coach even more than they commit to a school.

As a result, when it comes to recruiting, having an elite coach is even more significant than being an elite school. And from the looks of things, it appears that Illinois has a truly elite coach in John Groce.

And if he keeps recruiting the way he has so far this month, he could soon return Illinois to the pantheon of elite basketball schools.

On Thursday, point guard Quentin Snider of Louisville, ranked as high as No. 28 nationally, announced that he had picked Illinois (and Groce) over UCLA (and Steve Alford). Just a week before, Top 40 power forward Leron Black of Memphis chose Illinois (and Groce) over three other schools, including Indiana (and Tom Crean).

In college basketball, I consider the only full-fledged blueblood programs to be Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and Indiana. And the fact that Groce – who has been at Illinois a scant 17 months – was able to edge out two of them as finalists for two elite players in the span of two weeks speaks volumes about the Illini coach.

What could end up saying even more would be a pledge from consensus Top 5 recruit Cliff Alexander of Chicago Curie, who tweeted late Thursday night after Snider’s commitment that he will be taking an official visit to red-hot Illinois for Homecoming on Oct. 26.

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