Illinois trying to finalize deal with Ohio coach John Groce

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Illinois is trying to finalize a deal for Ohio coach John Groce, but a few snags have hindered it.

Two board members voiced concern that the school has yet to hire a minority coach, according to the Chicago Tribune. Early candidates reportedly included Alabama’s Anthony Grant, Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton and Washington’s Lorenzo Romar. But the only extended offers have been to VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens. Both said no.

That leaves Groce, the coach who just took the Bobcats to the Sweet 16.

“As far as I’m concerned whoever they chose it is their prerogative and their choice,” board member James Montgomery told the Tribune. “I was told there would be an open process and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.”

Money also has been a sticky point. The school still owes fired coach Bruce Weber $3.9 million. Reports indicated that Smart and Stevens both turned down offers that were more than $2 million per season. It’s unclear if Groce would have an offer that substantial.

Athletic director Mike Thomas says there is no rush to hire a coach. But he’d be smart to finalize a deal with Groce, 40, who has led Ohio to two NCAA tournaments in three years and has won three games in that span.

He’s just 34-30 in MAC play and 85-56 overall, but has made an impression as a recruiter at previous stops. He was on Ohio State’s staff when it landed Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. He also brought in D.J. Cooper to Ohio, the team’s leading scorer who was a star in all of Ohio’s NCAA tournament wins under Groce.

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