Illinois basketball: 1st-year coach John Groce ready to start fresh

Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

New Illinois coach John Groce is ready to take the program in a new direction after a frustrating 2011-12 season.

Hardly expected to contend for a national title in his first year in Champaign, first-year Illinois coach John Groce is eager to learn from and erase memories from his team's dismal campaign last season.

Groce takes over a program that has whiffed on two of the last three NCAA tournaments, but he wants both fans and his players alike to forget the past and embrace the future.

"It's in the rearview mirror," Groce told The Chicago Tribune. "It's over. That's not going to help us any. All we can do is learn from it and move on. The freight train is moving. Either jump on or get off."

Despite losing blue chip center Meyers Leonard to the NBA Draft, Groce should still have enough talent to contend on most nights against anyone in the Big Ten. Senior guard Brandon Paul buried flashes of stardom last year in between performances featuring lackluster shot selection but will undoubtedly take on a leadership role both on and off the court.

An athletic guard like Paul may very well flourish in Groce's up-tempo system right away, but the former Ohio Bobcats coach plans to unleash as many as 10 players throughout the year in his busy rotation.

"We want to attack," said Groce. "We want to be aggressive. We want the ball in the paint. We want to wear you out and make it a 90-foot game. That's me. That's what we've taught."

Also expected to be key this season will be sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams, a Chicago native who averaged 4.3 points and 1.9 assists over 21.1 minutes per night last year. Abrams struggled mightily with his shot under former coach Bruce Weber but may be afforded more room for error in Groce's fast-paced offense.

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