Contract extension, new facilities project highlight big day for Illinois’ John Groce

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In his first season as head coach at Illinois, head coach John Groce led the Fighting Illini to 23 wins and very nearly past East Region 2-seed Miami in the NCAA tournament round of 32.

As a result of his successful debut, Groce was approved for a raise in salary and a three-year extension of his contract through the 2017-18 season. The $200,000 raise pushes Groce’s annual salary up to $1.6 million per year.

But this wasn’t the only big news for Illinois Basketball, which also officially announced the addition of Western Michigan transfer Darius Paul and Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks.

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees also approved the “Illinois Renaissance” project, which is estimated to cost some $165 million and includes the renovation of Assembly Hall.

The three-year project is expected to be completed prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, and it includes the renaming of the building to the State Farm Center.

“All of Illini Nation should be very proud and happy that we have the State Farm Center renovation approved as we take the next steps in the process. We continue to work with individuals and groups for naming rights opportunities and premium seating, but I am comfortable with the progress we’ve made so far,” Illinois AD Mike Thomas said in the press release.

“There is more work to do, but this is such an important project for the University of Illinois campus, it is very exciting to have the approval and support of the Board of Trustees. State Farm Center officially becomes the name of the building and we’ll continue the transition to the new name.

“We have been working toward this moment for some time, but, this is really just the beginning of a project that will turn State Farm Center into one of the finest all-purpose facilities in the world.”

The Illinois men’s and women’s basketball teams will continue to play games at State Farm Center during the renovation project, and given the growing influence of facilities in recruiting this project could help Groce as he continues to build his program.

As renovations begin next season Illinois will undergo a transformation of sorts on the floor as well.

Returnees such as Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand will need to mesh well with the newcomers if the Fighting Illini are to account for the production lost due to the graduation of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.