If you think your week at work has been rough, rest assured you've got nothing on Illinois coach John Groce.
Just two days ago, Groce lost assistant coach Isaac Chew, a former Missouri assistant hired to help Groce plant a flag in the fertile Chicago-area recruiting turf. Chew was hired away by Marquette just six weeks after committing to the Illini's rebuilding project, citing his wife's preferences and the opportunity to work for Buzz Williams as two factors in the decision.
Now, a day later, Jalen James, a point guard prospect ranked in the top 100 of the 2013 class by Rivals.com (but not by ESPN Recruiting's analysts), has decided against joining the Illini. James and his AAU coach announced the news of his departure (“I wish Coach Groce And The Illini Staff The Best Of Luck In The Future!" James tweeted) Wednesday night, as the 6-foot-2 guard will now re-open his commitment.
The timing of the news seems awkward, as James, a Chicago native, had affirmed his commitment to play for Groce even after Bruce Weber, to whom James initially committed, was fired and replaced.
The decommitment won't affect this year's team, but James was a nice player to have committed for 2013 and beyond, as Groce attempted to build on the late-tenure recruiting success of Weber and ease his transition by maintaining as many prior commitments as possible. Illinois's 2012 class is understandably bereft, but the 2013 class was highlighted by James and No. 25-ranked shooting guard Malcolm Hill, who thus far remains committed to the program.
Groce needs players -- preferably from Chicago, but any players will do. James could have been an impact player or not, and as Dave Telep alluded to this morning, perhaps James needs to find a better fit anyway.
Still, the decision to leave just one day after a crucial assistant coach hardly marks the kind of positive momentum Groce was hoping to make. It will be a long climb back no matter what, but this is unquestionably a setback.