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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Fighting Illini Caravan stops by Metamora Fields

  • John Groce exudes excitement with his voice and his manner.

    The Illinois men’s basket-ball coach’s effervescence about his upcoming team rubbed off on the 120 Illini fans who turned out Thurs-day night for the Fighting Illini Caravan at Metamora Fields Golf Club.
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  • John Groce exudes excitement with his voice and his manner.
    The Illinois men’s basket-ball coach’s effervescence about his upcoming team rubbed off on the 120 Illini fans who turned out Thurs-day night for the Fighting Illini Caravan at Metamora Fields Golf Club.
    “It’ll be a different team than our first two years,” Groce said. “The majority of the guys will know what we’re talking about on Day 1 of practice. They’ll know our terminology, what we expect on and off the court. I’m excited about that expe-rience and our depth.”
    The Illini will return three starters and eight players total. Back are the top two scorers Rayvonte Rice (15.9 ppg) and Tracy Abrams (10.7) and top two rebounders (Rice and Nnanna Egwu at 6.0).
    Add the five talented sophomores-to-be along with transfer guards Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) and Ah-mad Starks (Oregon State) and incoming freshman Leron Black and Michael Finke and Groce has every reason to be upbeat.
    Still, the player asked about in the question-and-answer session was the one guy who won’t play — 6-foot-8 forward Darius Paul.
    The Western Michigan transfer and younger broth-er of ex-Illini Brandon Paul was suspended by Groce for the entire 2014-15 season this week for “multiple transgressions,” the latest resulting in an arrest for underage drinking.
    “We love Darius and want what’s best for him,” Groce said. “Darius loves Illinois. He won’t be on scholarship next season. But our whole focus right now is helping him as a person.”
    Groce said he wouldn’t fill the scholarship for next season if it wasn’t a good fit for the team.
    Five other Illinois coach-es were part of the caravan along with athletics direc-tor Mike Thomas and other administrators. This is the fourth of six such events around the state this month for the group.
    Illini football coach Tim Beckman believes his vet-eran team made big strides in the spring in hopes of improving its 4-8 record.
    “We have 22 guys back just on defense,” he said. “Our whole offensive line is back as are our two tailbacks. We need to replace our quarter-back (Nathan Scheelhaase). Wide receiver (top four are gone) is our biggest concern. “But I definitely feel this football team got better this spring. The continuity and maturity really paid big dividends for us. And I have a great feeling that our 85 players could be over a 3.0 
    Page 2 of 2 - grade-point average. That’s not a victory on the football field, but it’s what creates victories.”
    Thomas gave a progress report on the renovation of State Farm Center, the former Assembly Hall. The project is being worked on in phases over three years to avoid disruption of the basketball seasons.
    “Even though just two of the six stages will be done by November, it’ll look dif-ferent,” Thomas said. “The upper bowl seating has been torn out and will be replaced by blue seats.”

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