Tag Archive | Illinois

Just take me back

I breathe in deep and the cold, 65-degree air begins to fill my lungs. On a good day, my nose and cheeks turn a rosy red. On a bad day, they would have either remained peachy or started to look like beets.

Then I exhale and the can hear the wind rushing out of my mouth.

There’s a constant rustle in the background. It is not an inconvenience at all, but rather a welcome sight.

This. This is what I live for.

I am not there, but for a brief moment, I am. Read More…

Blog: Good things will come to those who wait for Cliffmas

Thank you, but I’ve had enough.

The last time I checked, Cliff Alexander isn’t running for president.

But somehow we’ve reached that stage. Read More…

News: John Groce hired as new Illinois men’s basketball coach

 

John Groce said he was working four different jobs when he graduated from Taylor University in 1994.

On Thursday, he got the one of his dreams.

On a risen platform in the middle of the Assembly Hall, Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas introduced Ohio University’s Groce as the next head basketball coach for the Illini.

“I can’t explain to you what the last few days have been like, the chance to be standing up just before you,” Groce said.

“I’m a fit guy,” Groce said. “It was important for me that our family felt like we could plug into a community, be a vibrant part of the community.”

A contract worth $1.4 million per year over five years was reportedly agreed to late Wednesday night.

The coaching staff is still being arranged, but Groce said that some of his assistants from Ohio will likely join him at Illinois. At the time of his introductory press conference, Groce said he had not spoken to Jerrance Howard, who was serving as the Illini’s interim head coach.

“I know he’s a tremendous recruiter and coach and a really good person,” Groce said after the press conference. “I’ve always had great respect for him and his recruiting.”

He added he will try to assemble his staff as quickly as he can but wants to make sure the “right people are on the bus.”

Groce compared his style of play to that of an aggressive boxer. He said the goal is to “knock someone out in each of the 10 four-minute rounds, then come up for air at the end of the media timeout and swing again.” Offensively, Groce said he likes a fast pace, but having depth is key.

“The great thing about this team is that we’re athletic, we have depth, and we can get out there and attack like (Groce) said,” said junior forward Tyler Griffey, who attended the conference. “It should be fun.”

In his four seasons with Ohio, Groce’s teams went a combined 85-56, with a 34-30 record in the Mid-American. His best season came this past year when the Bobcats went 29-8, including winning the MAC Tournament and advancing to the Sweet 16 after victories over Michigan and South Florida.

Groce led Ohio to one other appearance in the NCAA tournament in the 2009-10 season after winning the conference tournament. His team pulled off another upset when No. 14-seeded Ohio topped No. 3-seeded Georgetown in the first round 97-83.

Though his teams have fared well in the postseason, the regular season has been more of a challenge. His best conference finish is third, which came this past season. He finished fifth in 2010-11 and ninth each of the previous two seasons before that.

Before landing at Ohio, Groce served as an assistant under Thad Matta at Ohio State. He was the lead recruiter and instrumental in bringing in Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, all of whom played on the same AAU team.

In the one season with the three standout freshmen, the Buckeyes were national runner-up. Oden went on to become the No. 1 overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, while Conley was selected No. 4 by the Memphis Grizzlies, and Cook was taken No. 21 by the Miami Heat.

Groce also coached Evan Turner — a native of Chicago — for one season with the Buckeyes. Ohio State went on to win the National Invitational Tournament that year. Turner swept National Player of the Year awards two years later and was selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Effective recruiting in Chicago will be a key focus for the coaching staff in the future, but Groce said the most important aspect was finding “Illinois guys” — players who fit into the culture he hopes to establish — wherever they may be.

Groce has had success with Chicago recruits before, including Turner and D.J. Cooper, who led the Bobcats in scoring this season.

“We have a lot of previously established relationships there, maybe more than what people think,” Groce said. “But I’m looking forward to getting to know (Chicago-area coaches) better than we do now.”

The Illini’s head coaching position opened when Thomas fired Bruce Weber on March 9 with three years and $3.9 million left on his contract. Weber went 210-101 in his nine seasons at Illinois, with an 89-65 mark in Big Ten play.

Illinois originally pursued Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart, but he declined what was believed to be an eight-year deal at more than $2.5 million annually. The 34-year-old elected to return to the Rams for his fourth season.

Thomas also reportedly sought out Butler’s Brad Stevens to fill the vacancy, but Stevens announced Sunday he would remain at Butler.

During his portion of the press conference, Thomas did not speak about either coach but said “the process played out according to plan, and I feel good about the end result.”

Various media reports expected Thomas to hire Groce on Tuesday. When there was a delay, skeptics believed the Board of Trustees may have been involved, but Thomas clarified Thursday it was not the case.

“To say there was a flaw or hiccup in the process because others thought a decision or a press conference was supposed to happen two days ago, that’s not true,” Thomas said.

Thomas said plans to renovate the Assembly Hall are underway and that he hopes to sell the project around summer.

He added that there are also plans to upgrade the Ubben Basketball Complex sometime in the future.

As for the current team, junior guard D.J. Richardson said he believes it will remain intact as is.

“I think everyone’s staying right now,” Richardson said. “Everyone seems pretty humble and having a good work ethic.”

Richardson added he hopes Howard will remain on the coaching staff.

“I love coach Howard; he’s been there since I’ve been a freshman in high school.”

Groce studied mathematics at Taylor University. He also spent time as an assistant coach at Taylor, North Carolina State, Butler and Xavier. He and his wife, Allison, have two sons, who are all eager for the transition.

“We really felt like this was a great community, not only to grow a basketball program but also a family,” Groce said.

Photo and story via The Daily Illini

Game Recap: Paul has historic night in Illini upset over Buckeyes

Before Tuesday’s matchup with Ohio State, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber sent Brandon Paul a text simply saying it was his night to shine. Paul later proved his coach right.

Paul scored a career-high 43 points, including Illinois’ final 15 points, in a 79-74 upset of No. 5 Ohio State at the Assembly Hall.

The win marked the first time in three years Illinois defeated the Buckeyes at home.

“It was a ‘Tebow’ moment for Brandon, there’s no doubt about that,” Weber said, referring to Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s game-winning overtime pass in the NFL playoffs. “It was a special game and just like the overtime touchdown pass, Brandon had the couple big shots down the stretch, which broke their back and gave us a huge chance for a huge win.”

With the score tied at 66 and two minutes remaining, Paul hit a 3-pointer to give the Illini (15-3, 4-1) the lead.

At the other end of the floor, sophomore All-American Jared Sullinger hit a shot and was fouled, but missed the free throw.

Paul then hit pair of free throws, but DeShaun Thomas responded with a layup to bring the Buckeyes within one.

But as was common on the night, Illinois would go back to Paul for a big shot, and he delivered his eighth 3-pointer of the game to give Illinois the 74-70 lead with 43 seconds remaining.

“I was laughing a couple of times,” Paul said. “But, you know, after the first few threes, like four, I was just like, ‘I’m gonna keep shooting.'”

Paul then showed off his defensive abilities as well, getting a late block to help preserve Illinois’ lead.

“He’s been our leader by far in (defense),” Weber said. “He’s dominated there, so he does a lot of good things for us in a lot of ways.”

Sullinger would not be denied, however. With 26 seconds left, he cut Illinois’ lead to two. Ohio State then fouled Paul when he crossed half court. He sank both free throws to all but seal the victory.

With little hope remaining for the Buckeyes, freshman Tracy Abrams forced a turnover and Paul was fouled again.

After Paul hit both free throws, Aaron Craft made a layup for Ohio State, which led to the Buckeyes fouling on the inbounds. Paul, who was 13-for-15 on the night from the charity stripe, then netted his final point of the game.

In the end, Paul was responsible for more than half of his team’s points and had a game-high eight rebounds.

Paul’s 43 points are the most by an Illini in 21 years and third highest in history. Dave Downey scored 53 points against Indiana in 1963 and Andy Kaufman had 46 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1990.

Paul is also the first Big Ten player to score more than 40 points in a game since 1994, when Glenn Robinson scored 49 points for Purdue while Weber was an assistant coach for the Boilermakers.

Thomas had a team-high 23 points for the Buckeyes, and Sullinger added 21 on 9-of-16 shooting.

Entering the game, the main matchup seemed likely to be between Sullinger and Illini sophomore Meyers Leonard, who held his own Tuesday, scoring 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

“Both of us are some of the better bigs in the country,” Leonard said. “I thought I was right there with him … He had 21, and I’m not downgrading his game whatsoever, but I thought I did a pretty nice job.”

With the win, Illinois moves just a half game back of Big Ten-leading Michigan State. Ohio State (15-3, 3-2), meanwhile, fell to sixth in the conference after being picked to win it at the beginning of the season by the coaches.

Photo and story via The Daily Illini

Feature: Kalmanovich returns to tennis with new mentality

Roy Kalmanovich never thought an injury that would keep him away from tennis for nearly a year would be the healthiest thing for him.

In roughly the last 15 months, the junior on the Illinois men’s tennis team has not only dealt with the physical toll of recovering from a devastating injury, but he also had to re-evaluate why he even loved the sport.

It all started after his sophomore year, which ended in the spring of 2009. Kalmanovich was coming off a very successful campaign in most people’s eyes that included 30 wins. Despite finishing the season ranked No. 45 nationally and getting as high as No. 23 in the rankings, he was unhappy. At that point, Kalmanovich made the decision to walk away from college tennis.

“I felt like I wasn’t helping the team enough and I didn’t really want to be here at the same time,” Kalmanovich said. “It didn’t make sense for me to stay and it was nothing personal against anyone.”

Kalmanovich decided the only option for him was to begin competing on the professional circuit, though he never took money, which would remove his amateur status. Transferring was not an option because he still loved the school and said he was dealing with issues that were interfering with tennis and school. He believed the only options he had were to play tennis or go to school, not do both.

But there was another problem already brewing for Kalmanovich: his knees were starting to give out on him. He knew he was not completely healthy but believed it wasn’t serious, so he kept playing.

During practice, Kalmanovich remembers his knees would just fail, and after tournaments it was hard to even stand. Just walking to his car at times would be a chore after playing.

As he continued to play, the knees continued to get worse as he developed severe patellar tendonitis and chronic swelling. By August of 2009, Kalmanovich had to take months off at a time, and by late winter in 2010, he decided to put tennis on hold because of the injury’s severity.

“I honestly didn’t think I was ever going to play again,” Kalmanovich said. “Doctors were telling me it was not going to go away, it will always be there.”

Several options were considered, the most notable of which is platelet-rich plasma therapy, where blood plasma highly concentrated with platelets is injected at the spot of the injury and heals bone and tissue. The procedure has worked on such professional tennis players as James Blake and Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 player in the world. But Kalmanovich felt that given the condition of his knees, it would be better to simply take time off.

Looking back, Kalmanovich says the injury that made him stop playing the game he had played since age 6 was the best thing that could have happened to him.

“Ironically, it was almost a bit of a relief,” he said. ”At that point in time I was so curious what it would feel like to have a normal life that I was almost a little bit excited to take some time off.”

He started to open up his mind — he began to grow mentally by meditating and reading many philosophical works.

“Everything became a lot easier to accept,” Kalmanovich said. “You start realizing, ‘Why would I be upset, it’s just a game.’ In that moment I started to realize why I probably wasn’t as successful as I could have been because competing your whole life kind of skews your thought process to an egotistical, competitive mode to where you’re so stuck in one paradigm, you can’t get out of it.”

Among other things, Kalmanovich started to read ideas published by Albert Einstein, books by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Quinn and many other pieces. His absence from playing the game allowed him to study such works for the first time.

Though he couldn’t play it, tennis still remained part of him. He said he also began to work by teaching people how to play at his local club. There Kalmanovich started to realize problems within his own game that he had never even realized because he never had the opportunity to “view tennis from that angle.”

“When I was here before, my serve was a major weakness,” Kalmanovich said. “When I stopped, I magically one day understood my serve and now I’m serving pretty well. And it’s the same thing with my backhand. It was very therapeutic to do that.”

At this time, Kalmanovich also learned that he had to make changes to his lifestyle to make his body strong from a physical standpoint. He altered his diet by cutting out red meat and dairy and substituted fruits, vegetables and chicken in their place.

Resting his body also allowed his body to recover from any other problems it could have been dealing with.

“During that time I got so much healthier that now my physical performance is at such a higher level than what it was at before,” Kalmanovich said. “Looking back, I feel a bit stupid for eating the way I did and not paying as much attention to my body.”

The knees got better over time despite the long odds. Being a native of the northeast, Framingham Mass., to be exact, Kalmanovich skied, which actually helped strengthen his patellar tendons through flexing his quadriceps.

Then in January, about a week before the semester started, Illinois head coach Brad Dancer gave him a call.

With the dual season about to begin, the Illinois lineup was shuffled at each spot besides the No. 1 singles position, a spot that has been filled by Dennis Nevolo all season when he’s been healthy. Having kept in touch with Kalmanovich regularly and seeing him grow, Dancer decided to invite him back on the team.

“Roy’s a very good person, he’s got a big heart, a strong empathetic side and everyone’s always recognized that,” Dancer said. “He’s matured in some ways, he had to go through some growth phases, he’s done that … You’ve seen this maturation process occur for him, and it’s been exciting, it has nothing to do with tennis. He’s in that process now, he continues to go through it and that’s a big part of what our program is about, it’s not just about forehands and backhands, it’s about trying to get young guys to make good decisions and keep growing in their lives.”

Kalmanovich had thoughts about getting back in shape to play again professionally, but instead he agreed to play for the program he once felt he couldn’t help.

“I didn’t leave on a note I would have liked to leave on,” Kalmanovich said. “I felt like it was an opportunity for me to improve myself because of something I didn’t do well enough when I was here before … I thought that me coming back to a structured place, I would regain my game quicker, get some school done.”

After he was cleared and named eligible to play, Kalmanovich returned to campus. Every moment of tennis was then spent trying to get back in shape, after having done basically nothing besides light hitting. A couple weeks later, after nearly a year away from the sport, Kalmanovich returned to collegiate tennis in a match against Denver in the ITA Kickoff Weekend.

Playing at the No. 5 singles position, Kalmanovich said ‘he felt he was nowhere near ready to play. Still, he was able to pick up a 6-2, 6-4 win over Fabio Biasion that night to start his comeback. The very next night against Notre Dame, he defeated Samuel Keeton in a come-from-behind 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

Since then, Kalmanovich has contributed throughout the Illini lineup by playing at the Nos. 2-5 singles positions and has accumulated a 13-7 record. He’s won four of his last five singles matches, all at the No. 2 spot. In doubles, an area he played sparingly his first two years, he’s most recently teamed up with Nevolo to jump out to a 4-3 record.

Today, Kalmanovich feels he is stronger both physically and mentally. He said he may not be hitting the ball as hard as he used to, but because he feels leaner, his movement is much better. Mentally, he feels like it is almost day and night from where he used to be.

“It almost seems like I’m a better tennis player now than I was before because before I was so close-minded about tennis,” Kalmanovich said. “I didn’t really almost want to hear what Brad had to say. I was just so focused on walking on the court and beating whoever I was playing. I feel like I was competing with the wrong energy before.

“I play with a lot more appreciation now and a lot healthier perspective of tennis.”

In the weekend against Penn State and Ohio State in late March, Kalmanovich feels he turned a corner.

Playing against Ohio State’s Blaz Rola, currently ranked No. 6, he said he could start feeling his game again and felt like a different player from the beginning of the season, despite eventually falling in a third-set tiebreaker.

On and off the court, Kalmanovich’s return has also been helpful for his teammates, as he is always looking to help them improve.

“He’s so grounded, he always has good intentions in mind and is always looking to help people, so it’s been a lot of fun having him around,” Nevolo said. “He pushes me a lot more, his style is difficult for me to play against in practice. He’s real tough to play against and it’s made me so much better.”

With two matches remaining before the Big Ten Championships, which is then followed by the NCAA Championships, Kalmanovich is continuing to elevate his game. Once this season is over, he will be left with just one year of eligibility.

Should he continue to play tennis, the threat of an injury, whether severe patellar tendonitis or something else, continues to be a possibility. But Kalmanovich wants to be positive. He feels the negative energy he carried before was an injury in itself.

So he’ll continue to meditate, continue to read and continue to play tennis until he can’t. Right now, he’s just happy to be playing college tennis.

“I’m really thankful to Brad for trusting me again,” Kalmanovich said. “I’m just really happy to be back and part of the program again.”

Story via The Daily Illini

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