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updated: 5/31/2012 6:51 PM

Will assistant's departure hurt Illini recruiting?

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  • Illini men's basketball head coach John Groce recruited the Chicago area when he worked for Ohio State and Ohio University. Now he's without a top assistant a month before a key recruiting period.

       Illini men's basketball head coach John Groce recruited the Chicago area when he worked for Ohio State and Ohio University. Now he's without a top assistant a month before a key recruiting period.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Stephen Bardo, a former Illini guard and basketball analyst, believes Illinois can rebuild its program.

      Stephen Bardo, a former Illini guard and basketball analyst, believes Illinois can rebuild its program.

  • Former Chicago Bulls player Dickey Simpkins, who operates a Lincolnshire-based basketball training business, Next Level Performance, says John Groce's style of play at Illinois should be attractive to potential recruits.

      Former Chicago Bulls player Dickey Simpkins, who operates a Lincolnshire-based basketball training business, Next Level Performance, says John Groce's style of play at Illinois should be attractive to potential recruits.
    Daily Herald File photo

 
By Chad Thornburg
cthornburg@dailyherald.com

As a Chicago native, Isaac Chew was expected to aid the Illini recruiting effort in Chicago, an area that has seen countless prep stars escape state borders from Derrick Rose to Evan Turner to projected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Anthony Davis.

Now, just six weeks after he was hired, men's basketball assistant coach Chew has joined Buzz Williams' staff at Marquette and head coach John Groce is left short-handed in his first offseason.

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"I think it just points to what a big business college basketball has become," said Mike Mullins, head coach of the Illinois Wolves, an AAU team that produced current Illini players Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Nnanna Egwu. "The ability for coaches to leave and transfer jobs because of the dollars involved, opportunities involved has really escalated in the last few years. They're able to do so obviously without any penalties, which is not the same for the players."

Chew arrived at Illinois after one year at Missouri as an assistant under Frank Haith. Before that he was an assistant coach at Murray State for four seasons. Chew played basketball at Wells High School in Chicago and was the Public League Blue-West Player of the Year in 1994.

Dickey Simpkins, former Chicago Bulls player and founder of Next Level Performance, a basketball training business based in Lincolnshire that utilizes several suburban athletic centers, said the Illini can expect Chew to continue recruiting any players to Marquette that he was recruiting for Illinois.

"The nature of the game is he's going to recruit those kids and now he's recruiting them to a different school," said Simpkins, who has worked with athletes such as Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul. "If the kids have developed a relationship with that coach, that can cause those players to think in a different direction. "

Chicago is home to Jabari Parker, widely considered the nation's top 2013 recruit. The 6-8 forward will be a senior at Simeon Career Academy next season and has scholarship offers from most of the top programs in the country.

Mullins said Chew's short tenure at Illinois and the fact that there is still over a month until the July recruiting period will help minimize the negative impact on the program. While assistants are crucial to recruiting, the head coach plays the most important role, Mullins said.

"The head coach is the guy who decides whether you're going to play or not, whether you truly fit his system or not," Mullins said. "We advise our kids to be very aware of that and base their recruitment on how much the head coach is involved."

Groce has a reputation as a strong recruiter from his days as an assistant at Ohio State and isn't a stranger to the Illinois recruiting scene. Groce played a role in luring Greg Oden and Mike Conley to the Buckeyes and his leading scorer last season at Ohio University, guard D.J. Cooper, is from Chicago.

"I believe he knows how to recruit," Simpkins said. "I think his style of play fits the style of the game now -- ball screens, good guard play, transition play, opening up the court. I think that fits the kids of today."

Stephen Bardo, ESPN college basketball analyst and former Illinois player, said he's confident that Groce and his staff will be able to recruit Chicago and rebuild the Illinois program.

"It's not the best situation, but I don't think it's going to be as bad as some people think," Bardo said. "There are coaches that come in from all over the country that are able to attract players out of the Chicagoland area that have absolutely no ties to Chicago."

Bardo was the starting point guard for the Flying Illini squad that reached the Final Four in 1989. Amid the search to hire Groce as Bruce Weber's replacement, the appeal of the Illinois job was often called into question. After reaching the NCAA title game in 2005, the Illini have won just two NCAA Tournament games.

"From a perspective standpoint, the school took a little hit," Simpkins said. "It's high, major Division I job. I think the perception makes it seem like it's a tough job to take."

Regardless of the region, Simpkins said Groce needs to focus on recruiting the right type of player to help Illinois rebuild.

There's not a lot of kids out there that will have a mentality that 'I'm gonna go in and help the program get back on track,' but I think those are the kids that you have to go out there and find," Simpkins said. "You have to find players that are buying what you're selling as far as coming into the program and being the kid who gets Illinois back on track."

Illinois recruit de-commits

After losing an assistant coach to Marquette, Illinois lost a member of its 2013 basketball recruiting class.

Jalen James, a guard at La Lumiere in Indiana, has reportedly parted ways with the Illini. The 6-foot-3 guard originally committed to former head coach Bruce Weber, who was fired.

James attended Hope Academy in Chicago and listed at No. 89 in the class of 2013, according to rivals.com.

In April, 2012 recruit Michael Orris also broke off ties with the Illini. The guard from Crete-Monee reopened his recruitment and committed to Weber at Kansas State.

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