Big Ten Basketball Media Day is today! Coaches and players from around the conference are gathered in Chicago to give the fans and national media their first real glimpse of the teams. John Groce took the podium this morning to answer a few questions; his entire press conference can be found below. TCR will have more updates throughout the day so make sure to keep checking back!
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Here's the full transcript in case you're in class/at work and can't play the audio (like me):
JOHN GROCE: Thanks for having us. Obviously we're very excited about our team, especially the way we finished at the end of the year. You mentioned that we have four starters returning. We had two transfers sitting out that have made a real difference on our team. It's very noticeable in practice. Both guys give us some more offensive fire power and punch and scoring. I love our experience with 11 out of 15 players having been in our program for at least a year, so we've got some continuity there and some maturity. We're much further along at this point and this juncture than we would normally be because of that experience. Right now, our focus is just on continuing to get better, and I think we've done that so far. We started on October 3rd until now, so we're anxious to get back together again tomorrow and practice again. We've not had a bad practice. I think that speaks volumes of our leadership. Egwu as our captain at this point has been tremendous, and we're going to rely a lot on his leadership, as well as his productivity at both ends of the floor.
Q. You just mentioned Egwu. What are your expectations for him to take the next step this year?
JOHN GROCE: Well, I think the first thing is I think he understands -- and obviously we'll have our vote for captains to see if anyone joins him here as we head into year three -- but he understands that he's got a great responsibility. To whom much is given, much is expected, and I'm not talking about necessarily from a production standpoint, I'm talking about from a leadership standpoint, and he has been tremendous in that regard, teaching Leron Black and Michael Finke and helping the transfers that are playing now get acclimated. I really think he wants to give it everything he has. He's one of those kids that only knows one way. His motor runs all day, and he's a real pleasure to coach.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the point guard situation? What are the plans for the season?
JOHN GROCE: Well, obviously we don't want to lose Tracy. For us we're going to be fine. We've got Ahmad Starks who's been terrific on the offensive end. He packs a big-time punch. Yesterday we scrimmaged and he probably had his best practice of his career at Illinois. We've got some fire power there. Tate has really improved. Tate has some innate leadership qualities and brings some vocal leadership to our team that I like. My concern is more with Tracy. I love Tracy, and he's such a competitor. Obviously, he prepared to do this really, really well, made a lot of sacrifices, and I thought had really grown and matured a great deal, and so here you are as a senior ready to tackle that with his partner in crime, so to speak, Egwu, and now that opportunity gets taken away from him. But I think he understands things happen for a reason, and his attitude has been tremendous and his rehab work. Surgery will be this coming week, and we're looking forward to getting back an even better version of Tracy Abrams.
Q. Can you just speak to Wayne McClain? I know he was an assistant under you, but what you've known about him in this program?
JOHN GROCE: Well, unfortunately I didn't get a chance to know him real well, but the one thing I do know is I know a lot of the players, coaches, and a lot of people that have been impacted by him. I think last night when I sent the tweet out, I meant every word of it, from the standpoint of obviously he's had legendary coaching success, state championships, assistant coach on a team that went to the national championship game. But to me I think the response of Nnanna and Tracy who have played for him showed me a lot as well as people in our office and people in the community there on campus and how they felt about him. You could tell he impacted a great number of people, and I think obviously that will be as much or more of his legacy than all the wins that he had as a basketball coach.
Q. I just wanted to get your opinion on the new schedule format for the conference season, five double plays, eight single plays.
JOHN GROCE: Well, I think the scheduling component, obviously, our Big Ten office works very hard, very diligently to put that all together and put together something that makes sense. I think with where we are right now and adding obviously Rutgers and Maryland as members 13 and 14, yeah, I think it makes sense how they did it. Obviously in a perfect world, I think everyone would love a round-robin where you play everybody home and away, but at this juncture, I think it's wise. I've got no problem with the schedule and the way that it's done in the climate of college basketball right now for us to play 18 games. Most of them are wars, night in and night out, and the way that they put it together makes total sense to me.
Q. Is the NCAA Tournament a part of what you're discussing with your players at this stage?
JOHN GROCE: It always is. You know, we're at Illinois. People ask me that often. For us we don't shy away certainly from that expectation. At the same time we control the process. At the end of the day, the outcomes are -- sometimes you can't control all those, but we can control our attitude. We can control our effort. We can control our actions to be great teammates every day. We can control executing details, being more disciplined, all the things that make up a good basketball team. That's what we're trying to control right now. But we don't shy away from that. Of course, if you asked all of our players right now, they would love the opportunity to be in the NCAA Tournament. I think they understand that being in that tournament is a privilege. It's not an easy thing to do, but they love challenges. We love challenges, and we attack those things fearlessly, and I'm sure that this team will do the same.