Groce: "Darius is a part of our family"

Published 05/15 2014 09:00PM

Updated 05/15 2014 10:44PM

PEORIA, Ill. - Illinois basketball coach John Groce wants Darius Paul back, and insists Paul is still a "part of [the] family," but wouldn't elaborate Thursday night on what Paul's path back to the team will entail.

"That's obviously between me and his family," Groce said while at the Illini Caravan stop in Peoria.  "That's a private matter in terms of what we've discussed."

Groce suspended Paul from all team-related activities for the upcoming season earlier this week.  Paul pleaded guilty Wednesday to underage drinking.  He also admitted to failing two drug tests for marijuana since arriving at Illinois from Western Michigan.

"The biggest thing right now is I'm not concerned about the basketball at all," Groce said.  "Darius is obviously a talented basketball player.  I'm more concerned about Darius as the person, and that's by far the most important thing to me.  We have to get that part right first or everything else is just a moot point."

The Paul suspension is the first disciplinary matter Groce has had to deal with publicly in his two seasons at Illinois.  Many fans will look at this season-long suspension as a precedent that Groce is setting for his program, but he says that's not exactly the case.

"I tell [our guys] fair is not equal," Groce said.  "I look at each situation uniquely.  I filter it through what's best for the University of Illinois, what's best for the basketball program, as or more important, what's better for that basketball player as a person.  This time with Darius was no different.  We love Darius.  He's a part of our family, but at the same time there are consequences for actions.  We have standards that are a big part of our program.  We're going to do everything we can to help every student-athlete grow and develop as a person, as a student, and as a player.  As I said in the press release, I felt it was necessary for him to improve as a person."

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