John Groce knew Ohio was the right fit seemingly from the moment he walked on the Athens campus to interview for the head coaching job.
Thus, when the Ohio State assistant was offered the opportunity to replace Tim O’Shea, who left to oversee Bryant’s transition from Division II to Division I, Groce didn’t have to think about it very long. Groce felt Ohio was the right place to be and so did his boss, Ohio State coach Thad Matta.
“After I met with everyone, I spoke again with Thad and he said the question wasn't whether I should take the job, but why wouldn't I take the job?” Groce said. “When doors open you can choose to bust through, put one foot in the door, or back away. I decided to bust through the door. It was really a no-brainer decision."
Groce is seemingly everything Ohio would want in a coach to sustain and improve on the success O’Shea had. The Bobcats won 79 games over the last four seasons and should be a contender in the Mid-American Conference next season after playing in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational last season.
Groce, 36, is considered one of the top recruiters in the country after bringing NBA first-round draft picks Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook to Ohio State in 2006. Those three led the Buckeyes to the national championship game in 2007, where they lost to Florida before moving on to the pros en masse after their freshman season.
Groce also has a fine coaching pedigree as he started as an assistant at his alma mater, Taylor, an NAIA school in Indiana, before working under Herb Sendek at North Carolina State from 1996-2000, then for Matta at Butler from 2000-01, Xavier from 2001-04 and Ohio State the past four seasons.
Thus, athletic director Jim Schaus selected Groce over Robert Morris coach Mike Rice, Michigan State assistant Mark Montgomery and Ohio associate head coach John Rhodes.
“John has been around winners all of his career and that is not a coincidence,” Schaus said. "We tried to find the very best person across the country in our search and we feel we have done just that. He has been consistently mentioned among the top five assistants nationally, has been around first-class programs and has a shared vision of excellence."
While Ohio lost forward Leon Williams and guard Bubba Walther to graduation from last season’s 20-13 team, Groce will have a key building block in senior forward Jerome Tillman, who averaged 13.3 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Extensions, Extensions Everywhere!
It’s the season for extensions as UCLA’s Ben Howland, Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl, Davidson’s Bob McKillop and Illinois-Chicago’s Jimmy Collins all had years added to their contracts in the past week.
Howland’s new deal will keep him at UCLA through 2014-15. He has led the Bruins to three straight Final Four appearances and they were 35-4 last season before losing in the national semifinals.
Howland will have a challenge next, though, as he lost three underclassmen to the NBA draft in junior forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, sophomore guard Russell Westbrook and freshman center Kevin Love.
“If you told me right now I’d get back to the Final Four, I’d be elated,” Howland said.
Pearl is now under contact at Tennessee through 2014-15. He led the Volunteers to their first Southeastern Conference regular-season title since 1967 last season as they went 31-5 and advanced to the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen for the second straight year.
“Bruce has had a tremendous impact on our basketball program,” Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said. “His energy and enthusiasm have brought new life to Tennessee basketball.”
McKillop’s new contract keeps him through the 2015-16 season, when he will be 65 years old, and puts to rest speculation he might move to a bigger program. He led Davidson to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tourney last season as the Wildcats were 29-7.
Davidson has also committed to adding a fourth paid assistant and adding 1,200 stadium seats to Belk Arena. After 19 years at Davidson, McKillop said he has no desire to leave.
“I am really at peace right now,” he said. “To me, Davidson is like Camelot. This is a beautiful place, and a beautiful story.”
Collins, 60, made a strong return from abdominal aortic aneurysm surgery to lead Illinois-Chicago to an 18-12 record last season. That is why he got a three-year extension that takes him through 2011-12.
“One of the very, very important parts of coaching and one of the things that makes us want to stay in coaching is the young people we have the opportunity to be around," Collins said. “Right now I'm enjoying it as much as I've ever enjoyed it. You get a lot out of the teaching aspect. I came back last year with a bunch of good kids who wanted to learn, were respectful and worked hard, and those kids won more games than anyone expected.”
More Trouble at Indiana
The violations from the Kelvin Sampson era against Indiana keep coming as the NCAA has now charged the university with failure to monitor the basketball program.
The charge led to athletic director Rick Greenspan resigning. It was Greenspan who brought Sampson to Indiana two years ago.
Sampson resigned under pressure in February after he and assistant coach Rob Senderoff were charged with four major rules violations concerning improper phone calls to recruits. Greenspan hired Sampson after he had been charged with two similar violations at Oklahoma.
While the university would not comment on the latest charge beyond saying it would contest it, Indiana seems likely headed to another hearing of the NCAA Committee on Infractions later this year.
Indiana had a two-day hearing last month in front of the infractions committee in Seattle in which university president Michael McRobbie testified, during a video conference, that hiring Sampson was “a risk that should not have been taken.”
The hearing was closed to the public and media but the university released McRobbie’s statement in response to a public records request by various news organizations.
McRobbie said, “No longer can we say that we have had no allegations of major NCAA violations in almost a half a century. And that hurts me and Indiana University even more than the damage that has been done to the program that coach [Tom] Crean has inherited and now has to rebuild.”
Big East Schedule
The Big East Conference has released its schedule for 2008-09 and once again, all 16 teams will play 18 games inside the conference for a second straight season. Each team will face 12 teams once and three teams twice.
The decisions regarding repeat opponents are based on natural interest, geography, rivalries, television contractual obligations and competitive balance.
Among the more intriguing double matchups next season will be Connecticut/Notre Dame, Connecticut/Pittsburgh, Georgetown/Marquette, Louisville/Notre Dame and Marquette/Villanova.
The rest of the repeat matchups: Cincinnati/Georgetown, Cincinnati/Providence, Cincinnati/St. John’s, Connecticut/Seton Hall, DePaul/Marquette, DePaul/Pittsburgh, DePaul/South Florida, Georgetown/Syracuse, Louisville/South Florida, Louisville/West Virginia, Notre Dame/St. John’s, Pittsburgh/West Virginia, Providence/Rutgers, Providence/Villanova, Rutgers/Seton Hall, Rutgers/Syracuse, St. John’s/Seton Hall, South Florida/West Virginia and Syracuse/Villanova.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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