ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Illinois first-year coach John Groce said Thursday he felt recruiting Chicago wasn’t as bad as some have made it to be.
Two of Groce’s first four Illini recruits have been from Chicago. Shooting guard Kendrick Nunn and point guard Jaylon Tate recently committed to Illinois from Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, which has won three consecutive state championships.
“I think sometimes it gets overdramatized,” Groce said during the Big Ten media day. “There’s a lot of good guys up in Chicago, a lot of good coaches, people. I’ve enjoyed getting up here. We’ve been getting up here a lot. That’s going to continue.
“We’ve developed some relationships we’ve had to work to start from scratch when we first got the job and there are others we’ve kind of reconnected or continued to establish we already had prior. We’d be foolish not to recruit Chicago. It’s 3-million-plus people out of the 13 million in our state. We got to continue to do a good job there.”
As important as Chicago is, Groce didn't think it was necessary to land commitments from all of the top players.
“I think the misnomer is you got to get all of them,” Groce said. “No, you got to get the right ones. You have to get some of them; you have to get the right ones. I think that’s important. I feel confident we’re going to be able to get our fair share and obviously we’re off to a good start.”
ESPN recruiting coordinator Reggie Rankin also believed Groce was off to a positive start on the recruiting trail.
“When a coach takes over a program like Illinois, there is immediate pressure to recruit and keep home the best talent, especially when your home turf is Chicago,” Rankin said. “I think Groce has done a great job of being visible and making the prospects in the state know they are priorities.
“Now with two prospects committed from Simeon that speaks volumes. I know it’s not Jabari Parker, but I think there may have been too much ground to make up there given Parker’s national attention. But now that Groce has his staff in place, and he has locked into the next couple classes, I am expecting more in-state talent to head to Champaign because Groce will work to earn the trust of prospects, coaches and families. He is off to a great start, but expect things to be much better very quickly.”
Chicago’s 2014 class will likely be another hotspot for national recruiting. Whitney Young 6-10 center Jahlil Okafor is ranked No. 3 in the class, and Curie 6-9 power forward Cliff Alexander is ranked No. 9.
Illini fans are hopeful Groce can land some of Chicago’s top players. Former coach Bruce Weber was able to recruit Chicago; his 2011 recruiting class included four Chicago products. Where Weber struggled was landing the area’s top players, such as Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer, Sherron Collins and Julian Wright.