CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois basketball team is saving its best for last early on this season. They're proving to be a second-half team, and it has helped them get off to a 4-0 start. The Illini are averaging nearly 56 points in the second halves of games. That is 14 more points than they're scoring in the first halves. Illinois faced a halftime deficit Monday night against Brown, but they finished strong with 58 second-half points. "We're gonna see what our guys are made of coming out of halftime there, down four here at home," said head coach John Groce. "Obviously I thought our guys showed great character in the second half."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - It was a first half to forget for the Illini Monday night against Brown. The Bears raced out to a 37-31 lead early in the second half, before the Orange and Blue cashed in 58 points over the game's final 20 minutes. Illinois pulled away late for an 89-68 win to improve to 4-0. "We turned it up. We did," head coach John Groce said of their second half effort. "I thought our effort level and our focus was much better in the second half. We had some scouting miscues in the second half. I thought we were more locked in in the second half, and then once again our team shows its unselfhisness with 30 field goals - 17 of them assisted."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - If there's one thing this Illinois team is proving three games into the season - they can score. Light year's better than last year, and lights out from downtown. Illinois raced past Austin Peay 107-66 behind a balanced scoring effort that saw Illinois surpass 100 points for the second consecutive game. It's first time since 1993 than an Illinois team has accomplished that feat. The Illini are averaging more than 100 points per game this season. "I think the things that stand out the most to me was our unselfishness," said head coach John Groce. "I think sometimes we even passed up some shots to go from a good to great shot. We were very, very unselfish."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Freshman Chatrice White scored 13 points and pulled down 15 rebounds to help lead Illinois to a 60-58 win over Memphis. Sophomore Jacqui Grant scored 14 points for Illinois (3-0).
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois will try to improve to 3-0 when Austin Peay visits State Farm Center Friday night. The Illini are coming off one of the most lopsided wins in school history, a 114-56 victory over Coppin State. The players say they have already put that performance behind them, and they'll be ready for a new challenge Friday. "We still have a lot to improve on, which could make us better for the future," said sophomore Malcolm Hill. "That's just one game. We're worried about games in the future coming in February and March because we know that every game counts to get into the NCAA Tournament." Illinois and Austin Peay tip off Friday at 7:00 pm. You can see it on ESPN 3.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - All-American freshman Chatrice White scored a game-high 23 points, while also pulling down eight rebounds to lead Illinois to a 66-48 win over Robert Morris Tuesday night at State Farm Center. White, a McDonald's All-American, is now averaging 19 points per game through her first two career games. Ball State transfer Brittany Carter scored 11 points, and freshman Brooke Kissinger added ten. Illinois (2-0) forced 27 turnovers leading to 31 points off turnovers. Illinois is back in action Thursday night at home against Memphis.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Malcolm Hill played his best game as an Illini Sunday against Coppin State, and the sophomore credits a new attitude for his improvement. Hill put up career highs in points and rebounds Sunday. He was 6-for-9 from the field for 13 points and was one rebound short of his first career double-double. "I really just focused on playing hard on the defensive end and getting of rebounds," Hill said after Sunday's win. "The coaching staff was telling me, 'The offense will come. Just worry about playing hard and doing all the little things.' That's what I focused on."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - One of the big questions heading into this season for John Groce was how his team would handle the loss of Tracy Abrams. If Sunday's win over Coppin State is any indication, they'll be just fine. It is a small sample size against a below-average team, but senior Ahmad Starks and sophomore Jaylon Tate combined for 12 assists and just one turnover in a 114-56 win over the Eagles. Groce likes those numbers from the point guard position, and he says that was a big game for them to build from. "Tate and Starks have a gift to push it, so we're trying to play to our strengths," Groce said after Sunday's win. "I thought Tate was exceptional pushing the ball. Obviously the two point guards were 12-to-1 assist-to-turnover. I thought Tate had a good defensive game as well, maybe one of his better ones, so I thought he did some really good things and certainly helped our team at both ends of the floor."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois trailed early in the second half, but rallied down the stretch to hold off Georgia Southern 80-71 in the season opener Friday night. Champaign-native Rayvonte Rice led the way with a game-high 24 points. He was 8-12 from the field and 3-4 from 3-PT range. Aaron Cosby (16 pts), Malcolm Hill (11 pts) and Ahmad Starks (10 pts) all chipped double figures.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Recruiting is an inexact science. Some players work out; some don't. But that doesn't lessen the effort coaches like former Illinois assistant Jay Price put in to land the top recruits. "It's a grind," said Price. "It's a mental, mental grind. It's difficult. It keeps you up."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - John Groce dominated the headlines in the offseason as he chased down some of the country's biggest recruits. It's a non-stop job trying to bring some of the top talent to Champaign. Groce signed one of the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten, but it has been some of his high-profile misses that have garnered the most publicity. There's one person in Champaign who knows better than most what it feels like to get so close, only to miss out on those five-star recruits. "It's awful. It's not fun," said former Illinois assistant Jay Price, who now coaches girls basketball at St. Thomas More.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois women's basketball team survived a season-opening scare, but they held on to beat IPFW 70-63. Freshman All-American Chatrice White led the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow freshman Amarah Coleman and Ivory Crawford scored a team-high 18 points apiece.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - If you think Tracy Abrams won't have much of an impact on this year's Illini team because of his torn ACL, his teammates and coaches are making sure that's not the case. Abrams was voted one of three team captains, even though he won't play a minute this season. Nnanna Egwu and Ahmad are the other two captains. Even though he won't play, Abrams will travel with the team to every game, and he'll be like an extra coach on the bench. "Most importantly it's about respect," Abrams said. "Just continue to show those guys respect whether I'm playing or not. I'm just glad they even picked me to be their captain this year. Obviously I'm not playing, but I'm still here, and it's just good because you know those guys got hope in me."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - John Groce said Thursday he would put this year's recruiting class up against any in the country. The four-man class is widely regarded as the No. 2 class in the Big Ten and a Top 15 group nationally. Groce said La Lumiere's Jalen Coleman-Lands and Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan are two of the best shooters in the country. He likes the versatility of Simeon's D.J. Williams, who can play anywhere on the court; and he is especially proud to bring Darius Paul back. Paul will rejoin the team after one year at junior college. "He and I have talked about him becoming one of the greatest success stories of my career as a coach," Groce said of Paul. "Sometimes you gotta try to make lemonade out of lemons. At this juncture he has certainly done that."
Aaron Bennett, Matt Wettersten and Bret Beherns preview this year's Illinois basketball team.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - There was no drama and no surprises Wednesday as John Groce signed one of the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten. It was also ranked among the Top 15 in the country. Indiana's Jalen Coleman-Lands is a Top 40 recruit nationally. Simeon's D.J. Williams and Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan signed as well. And Darius Paul is coming back to Illinois after one season at junior college.
PORT ARTHUR, Tex. - When John Groce signs his 2015 recruiting class tomorrow, there will be at least one familiar face on it. Darius Paul plans to sign with Illinois - again - after spending a year at Lamar State-Port Arthur, a junior college in Texas. Paul was on Illinois' roster last year, but he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules after he left Western Michigan. In May, though, Paul was suspended for this season after being arrested for underage drinking and resisting police. Instead of sitting out again, Paul transferred to junior college, where he could be recruited by any Division I program. He said all along he hoped to return to Illinois - and according to a press released from Paul's junior college - he will officially sign with Illinois Wednesday. Paul is one of four players expected to sign with Illinois Wednesday, along with Aaron Jordan, D.J. Williams, and Jalen Coleman-Lands.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Friday night's exhibition game for Illinois became a coming out party for Leron Black. The freshman from Memphis, Tenn. wowed the Illini crowd with 15 points and eight rebounds in a 91-62 exhibition win over Quincy. Sophomore Malcolm Hill scored a game-high 20 points, and Nnanna Egwu did the dirty work pulling down 13 rebounds and blocking five shots. Illinois now has a week off before their season opener next Friday against Georgia Southern.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois basketball team will take the court for the first time Friday night when they host Quincy for their one-and-only exhibition game of the year. The orange and blue practiced at State Farm Center Thursday - just their second practice on that court. They scrimmaged against Dayton over the weekend in Indianapolis, but Friday's game will feel a little more like the real thing. "We're looking forward to the opportunity to get back out here tomorrow, and to play in here," said head coach John Groce. "I tell them all the time it's a privilege to be able to walk on to this court and play in this building. I think there's a little bit of excitement certainly with our guys both yesterday and today because of that."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois women play their exhibition opener Saturday at home against Millikin. The Illini are ready to put last year's nine-win season behind them. They return 11 players, including three of their top four scorers from a year ago. "We see what they're doing, we see the amount of scoring we're getting inside, the way we're shooting the ball and that gives us a lot of confidence and an excitement for the new year," said head coach Matt Bollant. "I know they're tired of playing against each other and ready to play someone else."
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The University of Illinois has picked a location for the five men's basketball games next season that cannot be played at State Farm Center because of construction. Illinois announced Thursday they will play those games at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. "We wanted to find a venue that made us feel at home, that was really welcoming, that we knew that we'd have a crowd that would be excited to have our games here," said Illinois executive senior associate athletic director Jason Lener. "The staff here, the venue, the community have had their arms open and welcoming to us, so we're real excited to come here."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois students got a chance to try and beat Illini basketball coach John Groce at his own game Wednesday morning. Groce was on the quad playing pop-a-shot to help the university promote its social media outlets. The school is trying to reach more students through twitter. So what better way than to have one of the most recognizable and popular faces on campus challenge students to a game of basketball between classes.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Friends and family got together in Champaign Wednesday to remember Wayne McClain. The Central High School basketball coach, and former Illinois assistant, was laid to rest Wednesday after he lost his battle with lung cancer and pneumonia last week. Thousands came to celebrate McClain's life at the Fluid Event Center in Champaign. They remembered the four state titles McClain helped Peoria Manual win in the mid-1990s, but his contributions to Illini basketball came to the forefront. Dozens of former Illinois players and coaches were there, including Bruce Weber, Bill Self, Deron Williams, Jerrance Howard, Marcus Griffin and others.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Sergio McClain always knew his dad was one-of-a-kind. "I've never met anybody like that that has taken life by the horns and yanked them off," he said. Wayne McClain was a fighter to the very end, and he waited until his final days to tell his family he had been battling lung cancer. His son Sergio found out when he overheard the doctors tell his dad that the cancer was terminal, and he was running out of time.
CHICAGO, Ill. - The Illinois basketball team received four votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll released Thursday. The Big Ten is projected to be one of the nation's toughest conferences once again this season. At the league's media day in Chicago Thursday, Wisconsin was tabbed as the unanimous favorite. WCIA 3's Bret Beherns was there and has more on the Illini.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For many, Wayne McClain's legacy will be remembered by his accomplishments on the court, and there are too many to count. But his former players and colleagues didn't talk about his wins and losses on Wednesday; instead they remembered a man whose impact was felt far beyond basketball. "The kids all looked up to him as a father figure," said Dick Van Scyoc, who preceded McClain as Peoria Manual head coach and served as McClain's mentor. "Not having maybe a dad at home he was somebody they could go to and cry on his shoulder."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The central Illinois community lost a coaching icon Wednesday. Central basketball coach, and former Illinois assistant, Wayne McClain died early Wednesday. He had been in the hospital since Friday battling pneumonia. McClain was 59 years old.
Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams talks with WCIA 3's Aaron Bennett about his season-ending ACL injury, and how he'll continue to play a leadership role even though he won't be on the court this season.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois head coach John Groce called this year's team the deepest and most experienced team he has had in his three years in Champaign. He also challenged his team to be in the best shape of any team he has ever coached. Groce also says he has been preaching the "2 D's"- discipline and details - in hopes of bringing this team back to the NCAA Tournament. "We're certainly grateful for the opportunity to be in postseason play last year, but all of us would've rather been in the other postseason tournament," said Groce. "When you miss that by the hair of your chinny chin chin, and you feel that, I think it really really accentuates and makes those details and the discipline that's required both on and off the court to be a champion come more to light, and it makes them value and appreciate those things even more."
Illini senior Nnanna Egwu talks with WCIA 3's Bret Beherns about his game and having no regrets when his senior season is finished.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - We are less than a month away from the Illinois basketball team's one and only exhibition game of the year, and on Thursday head coach John Groce talked about some of his expectations for this year's team, saying it is the deepest and most experienced team in his three years with the orange and blue. But of course most of the headlines this offseason came on the recruiting trail. Groce secured a commitment from four-star combo guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, but he also missed on a few four- and five-star recruits like Jalen Brunson and Jawun Evans. We will get a decision from Top 30 recruit Elijah Thomas in a couple weeks, and Groce said Thursday even though he has missed a handful of big recruits, he won't be toning down his approach or lowering his standards anytime soon. "We're very aggressive in everything that we do," said Groce. "We try to attack, be aggressive, and obviously we want to do it with purpose. I think that's important. You don't want to swing blind - or blindfolded. It's not like we're trying to hit a pinata. I do think that's important as well. I've got great assistant coaches. We've done a great job in that area, and we're going to continue to try to find Illini guys."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois women's basketball head coach Matt Bollant expects his team to take a big step forward this season after going just 2-14 in the Big Ten last year. A lot of those high expectations fall on the shoulders of freshman - and McDonald's All-American - Chatrice White. White should start immediately, and Bollant says she has been leading the team in scoring and rebounding so far in practice - even going as far as to call her a "program-changing" recruit even before she has played in a game. "She is everything we had hoped she would be," Bollant said. "The one thing about talented players, they tend to get better. Our practices are really intense. We have a lot of detail, and she wants to learn. She picks up things really fast. The great thing is she's a great passer as well, and so getting her touches is going to be really important, so she'll score or be able to find open shooters when she gets touches."
DALLAS, Tex. - John Groce received some more tough recruiting news Wednesday as five-star point guard Jawun Evans (Kimball H.S., Dallas, Tex.) verbally committed to Oklahoma State, choosing the Cowboys over the Fighting Illini. Evans is ranked among the Top 35 players in the country in the 2015 class. Illinois was considered the leader for the Dallas native earlier this summer, but Oklahoma State made a strong push toward the end.
LA PORTE, Ind. - When John Groce got the job two and a half years ago, Jalen Coleman-Lands was one of his top prospects. The 4-star combo guard is the second rated recruit in Indiana and is regarded as one of the best scorers in the 2015 class. He picked Illinois over UNLV and his home state Hoosiers. When he suits up next year at State Farm Center, he'll be the first player from Indiana to play at Illinois in 30 years. "I don't really care too much about what everyone else has to say," Coleman-Lands said of the pressure to stay in his home state. "Personally I felt like it was the right decision for me."
LA PORTE, Ind. - John Groce landed a verbal commitment Tuesday from one of the top available players in the Class of 2015, and it took some rare recruiting success in the state of Indiana to get him. Four-star combo guard Jalen Coleman, who is an Indianapolis native, announced Tuesday afternoon he will play for Illinois. "The reason I chose the University of Illinois is because they offer everything I was looking for in a school: academics, in particular the business program; the basketball system and level of competition in the Big 10; and the quality of Coach Groce and his staff," Coleman said in a statement.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois basketball team got some bad news Thursday. Head coach John Groce announced starting point guard Tracy Abrams tore his right ACL during a preseason skill workout and will miss the entire upcoming season. Abrams will redshirt this season, and then have one year left to play. It's a big loss, though, for this year's team. Abrams was Illinois' second-leading scorer last year, averaging nearly 11 points per game. He led the team in assists and was second in minutes and steals.
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. - For the third time in the last year John Groce and the Illinois basketball team are the bridesmaids. Illinois' top prospect, Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson, chose to return to his family's roots picking Philadelphia's Villanova over Champaign and the Illini. Brunson's decision comes just ten months after Quentin Snider decommitted from the Orange and Blue in favor of Louisville. That same day, Curie big man Cliff Alexander chose Kansas over Illinois in what will forever be remembered as the hat fake. Brunson left out the drama Wednesday. He simply unzipped his sweatshirt revealing a Villanova shirt - and hat.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For the second straight weekend John Groce will host one of the best point guard recruits in the country when Jawun Evans begins his official visit to Champaign Friday. Evans is a four-star recruit from Dallas, Tex. (Kimball HS), and he is ranked among the Top 30 recruits nationwide in the 2015 class.
Five star Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson took an official visit to Illinois this weekend. He was at the football game Saturday. He is a top Illini recruiting target. Brunson is ranked as the 15th best prospect in the class of 2015 according to rivals.com.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The game time is now set for the Braggin' Rights game against Missouri. The U of I announced Friday that the game will tip off at 1:00 pm CT on December 20th and will be televised on ESPN 2. Meanwhile the Big Ten schedule was released Thursday night, and the big thing that stands out immediately is that Illinois opens up with four of their first five games on the road - including back-to-back games at Michigan at Ohio State. It's a tough way to start, but it makes finishing strong all the more important.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Big Ten schedules for both the men's and women's basketball seasons were released Thursday.
URBANA, Ill. - Former Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson held his 13th annual Illini Rebounders golf outing Wednesday afternoon at Stone Creek in Urbana. All the proceeds benefit the Illinois basketball program.
Champaign Centennial graduate Michael Finke, now a freshman on the Illinois basketball team, accepted Aaron Bennett's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - and issued a few more challenges to his Illini teammates.
Former Illinois basketball player Brett Melton has spent the last few days giving back to his hometown. Melton was a standout player at Mahomet-Seymour in the late 90's. Bad ankles forced him to transfer after just two seasons with the Illini, but as our Bret Beherns shows us, Melton still bleeds orange and blue.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The University of Illinois Board of Trustees officially approved a contract extension and raise for men's basketball coach John Groce on Thursday. Groce gets a one-year extension that runs through the end of the 2018-2019 season, and a $100,000 raise that brings his total salary up to $1.7 million. This is the second extension and raise Groce has received in his two years at Illinois. He has a 43-28 overall record with the Illini, which includes one NCAA Tournament berth and one NIT appearance.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas announced Wednesday Warren Hood will replace Tom Michael as senior associate athletic director overseeing the State Farm Center renovation, after Michael was introduced Tuesday as athletic director at Eastern Illinois.
After playing professional basketball for three seasons in Paris, France, former Illinois basketball standout and Centennial alum Trent Meacham is looking for a new place to play in Europe next year.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois basketball will add EIU-transfer Alex Austin as a walk-on, Austin confirmed to WCIA 3. Austin played two seasons at Eastern Illinois before announcing he would transfer elsewhere. The Mt. Carmel grad averaged 7.0 ppg as a sophomore last season at EIU. That's a decrease from his 9.3 ppg average as a freshman. Austin will have to sit out this season, due to NCAA transfer rules, and then he will have two years of eligibility remaining.
SAVOY, Ill. - Former Illinois basketball star Kendall Gill was back in town Monday for his 25th annual golf outing to benefit Cunningham Children's Home. The event has been a hit every year since Gill graduated from the U of I more than two decades ago, and he never misses an opportunity to come back. "Cunningham Children's Home is definitely the beneficiary of everything we do," Gill said. "And we're just glad to bring attention to their cause and what they're trying to do."
CHICAGO, Ill. - A committee of trustees presented a plan Thursday that would give Illinois men's basketball coach John Groce a raise and contract extension, and all it needs is approval by the full Board of Trustees later this month. The Governance, Personnel and Ethics committee met Thursday in Chicago and recommended rewarding Groce with a $100,000 raise and a one-year contract extension. The raise would bring his salary to $1.7 million, and the extension would keep him under contract through the 2018-2019 season. This is already the second raise and extension Groce has received in his two years at Illinois. He has one NCAA Tournament appearance and one NIT berth so far at Illinois. The full Board of Trustees will meet July 24 to approve the raise and extension.