Groce talks about building toughness at Illinois

By David Mercer

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 7 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"I've got all the numbers from yesterday on what we shot, who made what," Groce said a day after his first workout with the team. "Today I'm going to give the individual kids those numbers and I'm going to say let's see if we can attack this, let's get a little bit better today and compete against ourselves."

A few hours later in the team's practice gym, Groce called frequently on managers armed with clipboards as he worked his way from player to player during a shooting drill.

"What did Joseph make yesterday?" he yelled, striding toward sophomore forward Joseph Bertrand, one of the few upperclassmen on the roster. After the manager's answer, Groce challenged Bertrand to improve just a bit. "Joseph, you're trying to beat 27."

The drills at this point are simple, at least partly designed to give Groce an idea of what he has. But they also give the players a chance to learn a little about him.

In practice and elsewhere, Groce is a walking exclamation — chopping, punching and stabbing the air around him with quick hand gestures, and doing much the same with the sound effects he uses for emphasis.

"I want you hammering that ball into the wood," he yells to players about to start dribbling up court with two balls, one in each hand. "Boom, boom, boom."

It's early, but his talk of attack — a word he uses a lot — is what many of his players want to hear.

"That's how I'm used to playing," said guard D.J. Richardson, a junior who said he'd spent a little time watching Ohio to get an idea of what to expect. "They like to get out and run."

But fans hoping for a replay of the fastest moments of the 1989 Flyin' Illini, the up-tempo team Weber's squads were often unfavorably compared to, might want to temper that hope. Groce, sounding a bit like Weber, says his teams must be able to grind out wins, too, sometimes with a methodic half-court game and — he says it again — toughness, like his Bobcats.

"I think a great example of that, the Carolina game where we got stung early and got down 15," he said. "And those kids just kept fighting and fighting and fighting — and got themselves back in the game.

"And that's the type of mentality that we want to have here, that fight, that being able to grind it. Sometimes it's not pretty."

Follow David Mercer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DavidMercerAP

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