It is typical for a head coach in his first season at a program to struggle with recruiting, as he attempts to build a name for himself.
New Illinois basketball head coach John Groce, however, is anything but typical.
Groce led his Ohio Bobcats to the Sweet Sixteen last season and now with the Illini, he is attempting to piece together the puzzle that Bruce Weber left scrambled across the floor.
Groce has done an extremely good job in his six-plus months on the job, bringing in the necessary talent to turn around a prideful program. It started with the transfer of area-product Rayvonte Rice—named the 2010 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year—from Drake back to his hometown.
From there, good things have continued to come for the Orange and Blue.
Groce was able to reaffirm four-star guard Malcolm Hill's commitment to Illinois, while also adding three-star center Maverick Morgan.
However, no addition was bigger than the commitment of Simeon shooting guard Kendrick Nunn, ranked as the No. 42 player in the 2013 class by rivals.com. Nunn announced his decision on Twitter nearly three weeks ago saying:
"@JohnGroce I Need That Scholarship..My State. My School #KendricksKingdom.”
It was reported that Indiana product Demetrius Jackson, a five-star point guard, would follow Nunn to Illinois, essentially guaranteeing a Top 10 recruiting class in Groce's first season. However, Jackson decided to stay in his home state, committing to Notre Dame last week.
Nevertheless, it did not take long for Groce and Nunn, who has been actively recruiting players to join the cause, to go to Plan B. Simeon's three-star point guard Jaylon Tate became the new target, and on Thursday, he gave his commitment to Groce on his recruiting visit.
Nunn once again went to Twitter to show his excitement about the commitment of his high school teammate.
Tate's decision to join the Illini is not only big for a team in need of point guards, but also to develop the Chicago pipeline that went dry once Bill Self left town. The Illini have struggled to reel in Chicago's finest (no, not Calvin Brock) in recent history, as Weber continued to come up empty when reaching into one of the nation's richest wells of talent.
Illini greats Dee Brown, James Augustine and Luther Head came from the Windy City area, but not since then has Chicago's top-notch talent made its way down I-57 to Champaign. And no, Jereme Richmond does not count, as he has spent more time on house arrest than he did on the University of Illinois campus.
With Groce, however, Illini fans hope that those recruiting nightmares are in the past.
Reestablishing ground in Chicago is crucial for the Illini's success, as five-star Chicago recruits Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander loom in the 2014 class.
The rebuilding project has begun as a strong foundation is being built, and with Groce as the architect, Illinois will be back at the top of the Big Ten in no time.
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