John Groce is excited about the age and experience of his 2016-17 team, the Illinois coach said at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday.
“This will be the oldest team that I’ve coached, as an assistant or a head coach, during my college career,” Groce said. “At some point this year I’ve got two guys that are going to turn 25 years old, I’ve got a couple sixth-year seniors that have earned bachelor’s as well as two master’s degrees when this thing’s all said and done.”
Illinois has six seniors on its roster, including sixth-year guard Tracy Adams, who has missed both of the past two seasons due to injuries, and center Mike Thorne Jr., who has redshirted twice over his college career, once as a freshman at Charlotte and again last season at Illinois. Incumbent leading scorer Malcolm Hill (18.1 points per game last season) is also back for one more go-round in Champaign.
“That experience of our six seniors means a great deal,” Groce said. “You can even assess that in the preseason, just in terms of knowledge and the progression that we’ve been able to make through the eight practices thus far.”
Groce also said that following a season in which Illinois was marred by injuries and player discipline issues, his team has put forth impressive effort to prepare for the new campaign.
“The collective buy-in with our group, with everything we’ve been through, is as strong as certainly I’ve seen it, as a head coach,” Groce said. “We’ve had years where individual players or a handful of players have had exceptional off-seasons … but the collective buy-in of the entire group in spring, summer and fall was just tremendous.”