CHAMPAIGN, Ill. | First-year Illinois coach John Groce announced an inaugural recruiting class Wednesday that he says includes a player at each spot on the floor who can play the up-tempo basketball he likes.
The class includes highly regarded power forward Austin Colbert from New Jersey, a big, highly ranked shooting guard from Bellville, Ill., in Malcolm Hill and a pair of guards from Chicago Simeon High School, point guard Jaylon Tate and shooting guard Kendrick Nunn. The school is a Chicago basketball hotbed and one of the places in the city where Illinois has struggled to attract players from.
The fifth member of the singing class is another big man, 6-10 Maverick Morgan from Springboro, Ohio.
Groce said the additions should go a long way toward the fast-paced game he wants to play at Illinois.
"No question, we recruited to our system," Groce said from Hawaii, where Illinois is getting ready for a run of four games. "I felt like one of our primary objectives with this '13 recruiting class was to try and get one at each position in that mold. I think all five of those guys certainly fit that attacking style of play."
Groce has said since he was hired from Ohio earlier this year to replace Bruce Weber that he wants Illinois to play up-tempo but couldn't do that to the degree he'd like with the current roster.
The arrival of Nunn and Tate from Simeon follows news reports after Groce was hired that the school's coach, Robert Smith, wasn't happy with the Illini's choice. He'd been reported as a possible candidate for the job himself.
Groce met with Smith early after his hiring, and said Wednesday that there never appeared to be much of a rift.
"Really, to be honest with you, it wasn't that big a deal," he said.
Tate will join a team short on true point guards, while Nunn, Groce said, is a selfless player who nonetheless can shoot.
"He brings you athleticism, he can shoot the ball, he's tough, he's a winner," Groce said.
Keeping Hill, who was initially recruited by Weber, was a key, Groce said, and the 6-5 guard from Bellville East High School was one of the first people the coach called.
Getting Hill to buy in, along with transfers Sam McLaurin from Coastal Carolina and Rayvonte Rice — a Champaign native sitting out this year after leaving Drake — helped land the other players, Groce said. And all of those players made a leap of faith, he added.
"At that point in time you basically have to say, 'I believe in the vision ... I want to be a part of that' without as much evidence (as others will have)," Groce said. "Then it starts to fall like dominoes."
The 6-9, 200-pound Colbert, was the last to commit and the only player from outside the Midwest, indicating just a few days ago that he intended to head to Illinois.
The addition of the three guards — four if you include Rice — comes as Illinois prepares to lose two guards who've played a lot of basketball since in their three-plus seasons on campus. Seniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson have been regulars in the Illinois rotation for most of their time in Champaign.
Morgan will also fill a void. Sophomore Nnanna Egwu and McLaurin, a grad student whose eligibility will end after this season, are the only centers on the roster.