Smile Politely

The Calm after the Storm

When John Groce arrived on campus, he talked about teaching. He described himself as a teacher. He compared the practice gym to a classroom.

Due to ever-evolving NCAA rules, basketball school is in session.


Last year at this time, non-qualifiers like the Illini got extra practice time up until the last NCAA Tournament game. This year, teams can continue to practice, in groups of four, for eight hours per-student-athlete per week (six hours conditioning, two hours in drills)*.

Thursday afternoon, Groce played principal. Assistant coach Jamall Walker took the reins and drove the four-in-hand through a series of offensive drills. From the catwalk, I could understand every word he said.

I suspect team managers took notes on Walker’s drills. There was a lot to absorb. Later, the players will be expected to drill themselves. Just in case, I made an instructional video.


The most striking difference between Weber and Groce Administrations, so far, is the volume level. Bruce Weber and Wayne McClain are loud. McClain’s insistent, high-pitched machete accompanied player mistakes, or lagging effort.

Weber yelled all the time. Because of his vocal cord problem, he has no mid-range. It’s whisper or scream. At the Corzine Gym, it was always scream. Reverberations enveloped consonants. Whatever signal left his mouth, it was all noise by the time it bounced off the rafters.



Thursday’s practice marked the first time media not named Paul were given access to the new coaching staff to watch them at work. Because these drills focused on ball-handling and dribble-penetration, guards coach Walker led. Bigs coach Dustin Ford and wings coach Isaac Chew will take the reins in their own time.

We can assume that each coach will spend a lot of time with a particular group of players, but it’s interesting to note that Mike Shaw ran the guards drills. Can we extrapolate from that information? Will Dustin Ford run DJ Richardson through post-up drills?

I wouldn’t be surprised.

Look at Wisconsin. Bo Ryan’s swing motion is designed to isolate physical guards on the low post while opening sharp-shooting bigs at the arc.

Ford said the new Illini offense is especially well-suited to Tyler Griffey, who can post-up, or run a high ball screen for a pick-n-pop.



In years past, Illini bigs worked with the guards on occasion. Mike Davis in particular, although he generally played the 4 and sometimes the 5, worked on ball-handling with the wings. Bill Cole started with the bigs, but eventually moved to the wing full-time.

It’s a holistic approach, the development of a complete player. I don’t know that that’s the intention. I might be reading too much into what little I’ve seen. But it makes sense, if the emphases are teaching and learning. When you see the big picture, when you see how the parts work together, you understand the machine.


All the coaches expressed thanks for the new NCAA practice rules, because of the huge head start it allows them. If this were April 2011, they’d still be wondering what their new team could do. Now they can work with individuals, so long as school is in session, through Reading Week.

Because the NCAA recruiting calendar has changed, they can also get out to sanctioned events on weekends. That’s a head start in presenting themselves to local high school and AAU teams. Sure, there’s no time for seeing wives, or sleeping; but we didn’t hire these guys to sleep, right?


* Weekly Hour Limitations—Outside the Playing Season.

(a) Sports other than Football. Outside of the playing season, from the institution’s first day of classes of the academic year or September 15, whichever occurs earlier, to one week prior to the beginning of the institution’s final examination period at the conclusion of the academic year, only a student-athlete’s participation in required weight training, conditioning and skill-related instruction shall be permitted. A student-athlete’s participation in such activities per Bylaw 17.02.1 shall be limited to a maximum of eight hours per week with not more than two hours per week spent on skill-related workouts. All countable related activities outside the playing season are prohibited one week prior to the beginning of the final examination period for the applicable academic term through the conclusion of each student-athlete’s final exams.

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