SPORTS SCENE

Mac on Sports

Groce:  Illini Will be Better Offensively
 
    Last year Illinois ended the season ranked 11th in the country defensively, but offensively they were in the middle of the pack which won't be the case this year with Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby shooting from beyond the arc.
    That was one of the points Illinois head coach John Groce made Sunday night at a special edition of Mark Tupper and Tim Cain's "SportsTalk" on WSOY Talk Radio 1340.
    Speaking before an orange-and-blue crowd at Hickory Point banquet center, Groce informed, "We are going to be significantly better shooting team than we were last year," which brought huge applause from the partisan faithful because everyone remembers how offensively challenged they were last year when somehow the ball ended up in Rayvonte Rice's hands as the shot clock wound down.
    In addition, "we are much farther along at this point in the season than we were three years ago," said the coach, who begins his third season on the hardwood next month.
    I will have more on Groce's appearance in Decatur in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

Wayne McClain Passes Away This Afternoon
 
    The Central Illinois basketball community is in shock this afternoon (Wednesday) with the passing away at the age of 59, Wayne McClain, Champaign Central boys basketball head coach and former assistant to Bruce Weber's Illinois and Kansas State college basketball teams.
    He also won four state championships when he coached Peoria Manual.
    McClain was hospitalized earlier this week in the intensive-care unit, suffering from pneumonia.
    He is survived by his wife Robin, son Sergio, daughter Brindeshie and grandson Sergio Jr.
    In his first year (2013-14) at Champaign Central, McClain guided the Maroons to a regional title and a sectional win.  As a result, he was named All-Area Boys' Basketball Coach of the Year.
    I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

Some Thoughts On Illinois Basketball Media Day

   Culture...
    If John Groce used that word once, he used it dozens of times at this afternoon's (Thursday) Illinois basketball media day to describe his 2014-15 Illinois basketball team which is going to be deeper, more experienced and more competitive than it's been in his previous two years as the Illini's head coach.
    Entering his third season, Groce spoke about his team's willingness to sacrifice for the team instead of worrying about individual honors or awards, pointing out, "i've told them everyone has to sacrifice for us to succeed and that I as their coach, our assistant coaches, our support personnel and others have to sacrifice to succeed and I expect that of them."
    That was one of the times he spoke about the culture he is instilling in this year's squad which he says will be deeper than his previous two and that he expects to play eight or 10 players in a game to take advantage of it.  He added, though, "I've told the players, players play players," indicating their play in practice and in games will determine who plays and who doesn't.
    Later, he spoke of the two D's--discipline and detail--as addition spokes in that "culture" wheel.
    While he said he wasn't interested in setting goals of specific wins, the coach said he's told his team that has been practicing since Oct. 3, "We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season and we want to get better each day.  If we do that, the outcomes will take care of themselves.
    "As I told Tracy (Abrams, who will miss this season because of his off-season knee injury), "We want to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday."
    And the coach is excited about blending in nine newcomers into the rotation, saying no school in the country has nine newcomers on their squad this year.  Those nine newcomers are among the 15 players he has on the squad, that include two freshmen--Michael Finke and Leron Black.
    He also has the two transfers eligible to play this season--Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby.  They are, in addition, to the five sophomores returning--Jaylon Tate, Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Austin Colbert and Maverick Morgan.
    The coach exuded praise over senior Nnanna Egwu and his play throughout the summer and so far during these early practices. 
    I was attended Groce's Thursday afternoon news conference and will have more from it in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune. 
 
    
Conlin to Leave Raiders
At End of Grid Season
 
     Since 1981 when he was 21 years old and a young assistant coach at Arcola, Mike Conlin has been around prep football which has given him much pleasure, including the time he's spent at Central A&M since 1998 when Mark Ramsey gave him the opportunity to join his staff.
     Conlin is leaving Central A&M at the end of this season to begin work in the agriculture industry with a formal announcement on where that is coming later this month when he joins the company on Monday, Oct. 27th.  One highlight of his football coaching career came when the Raiders played in the state championship in 2001.
     As well as serving as former coach Ramsey's assistant and now Nate Graham's staff, Conlin became the high school's athletic director in 2002.
     He's served in education for more than 30 years.
     I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

News Gets Worse for Beckman, Illini 
Lunt has Fractured Leg
 
    Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman announced Sunday that Fighting Illini quarterback Wes Lunt, who leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game, suffered a fractured fibula in the loss to Purdue Saturday and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
    “I’m very disappointed for Wes, his family and the Fighting Illini family, but I know we all will respond to this situation in a positive way,” Beckman said.  “He’s having an outstanding season and we’re very hopeful to have him back on the field for the final three games. 
    "We are fortunate to have two bye weeks coming up so the games Wes will have to miss are as limited as possible.  We have a lot of confidence in Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey as we prepare for our upcoming game against Wisconsin."

    Lunt is having a stellar season for the Fighting Illini. In five games, he has completed 127-of-191 passes (66.5%) for 1,569 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.  He currently ranks in the top-20 in the nation in completions per game (25.4, 10th), passing yards per game (313.8, 14th), passing touchdowns (13, 17th), passing yards (1,569, 18th), completion percentage (66.5, 20th) and passing efficiency (154.8, 20th), and is tied for fourth in FBS with 14 passing plays of 30+ yards.
    I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

Coleman Commits to Illinois
 
    There's a Decatur connection to Jalen Coleman's commitment to Illinois and John Groce today (Tuesday).
    Coleman's recent coach, Alan Huss, is a former Decatur Eisenhower graduate and athlete, who coached Coleman at LaLumiere Prep in LaPorte, Ind. last season.  Huss recently left LaLumiere after being named an assistant coach at New Mexico.
    Coleman is ranked 33rd in the 247Sports composite rankings.
    The 6-4 Coleman is a four-star combo guard from Indianapolis
    He's the first player from the state of Indiana Illinois has signed since 1985, when Noblesville's Scott Haffner signed in 1985.
    I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

Williams Enrolls at St. Teresa
 
    Realizing that his high school basketball career probably is over, Christian Williams this morning (Monday) enrolled at St. Teresa, Dr. Ken Hendriksen, the school's principal and chief executive officer, announced.
    Dr. Hendriksen's statement reads, "Christian Williams, an 18-year-old senior student who has previously attended St. Teresa since his freshman year, was accepted and officially enrolled at St. Teresa High School on Monday, Sept. 15.  Christian has been accepted
as a student today with the understanding that he is probably forgoing his senior year athletic eligibility.
    Williams states in the release, “I have attended Decatur Catholic Schools with my friends
since the 4th grade. I want to attend St. Teresa High School whether or not I’m able to play basketball. My goal has always been to graduate from St. Teresa.”
    His mother previously enrolled him at Springfield Lanphier where he briefly attended before leaving there.
    If he has played his last game as a Bulldog, Williams' imprint on the boys basketball program will last indefinitely since he has scored 1,226 points in his brilliant career there.  Unfortunately for him, he will not have the opportunity to break the school's career all-time scoring record of 1,443 held by Dave Fisher, who graduated in 1973.  He also will not have the privilege of being named the first player to be named all-tournament in four years of competing in the Team Soy Decatur St. Teresa Christmas tournament since he won't be playing.
    I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.


Taylor, Murrell Seek Increased Athletic Participation
 
    Dr. Tim Murrell is getting acquainted with the news media after being named the Decatur School District's deputy superintendent where he succeeds Superintendent Lisa Taylor, who is now Decatur's superintendent.
    Murrell returns to Decatur from St. Louis where he's been after serving as director of the Decatur Technical Academy for the 2009-10 academic year.
    He and Superintendent Taylor sat down with me recently for an early morning breakfast to discuss their respective visions on where they want to take Decatur public school elementary, middle and high school athletics.
    "It begins with increasing our participation numbers," said Superintendent Taylor of one of her primary goals she has given Dr. Murrell to pursue with the high school, middle school and elementary school coaches.
    To start moving toward that goal, the district recently moved the two high school athletic directors Greg Collingwood of Eisenhower and MacArthur's Jason Crutcher into the administrative ranks because, as the superintendent explained, the athletic directors positions have evolved into more than scheduling athletic games and officials into more of a management/administration role of evaluating coaches and other managerial duties and responsibilities.
    In fact, since he already has his management/administrative certificate, Crutcher is serving as assistant principal at MacArthur where he is responsible the senior class and teaches an advanced placement class as well as continuing to serve as the school's AD.  Taylor said Collingwood will retire in two more academic seasons, now teaches two classes in addition to his AD responsibilities, and his successor will be classified as administrative/managerial capacity.
    To increase interest in athletics from students, Taylor said they are adding sports at the elementary and middle school areas, like volleyball and cross-country with some interest in softball and baseball which are in addition already to basketball and the public school Junior Football League activity.  
    I will have more from my in-depth interview with Superintendent Taylor and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Tim Murrell in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.
 
Double Whammy for Illini, Groce
 
    First, Jalen Brunson, Stevenson's talented point guard, breaks the hearts of everyone in Illini Nation with his Wednesday afternoon announcement that he is headed to Villanova to play for Jay Wright's Wildcats instead of John Groce's Illini.
    And now, moments ago (Thursday afternoon)  this writer learned from Illinois sports information personnel that Tracy Adams has torn his anterio cruciate ligament (ACL) and is out for the season.
    Here's the Illini statement on Abrams, "Fighting Illini senior guard Tracy Adams (Chicago, Ill./Mount Carmel H.S.) suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during preseason skill workouts.  His surgery has yet to be scheduled.  Abrams will redshirt the upcoming season and return to action for his final year of eligibility in 2015-16.
    "Tracy worked hard in the offseason to put himself in great position heading into his senior year, so he's obviously disappointed and we are for him as well," Groce said.  "But Tracy personifies toughness; he has the heart of a champion and I know that he will only come back stronger from this experience when he returns to the court next year.  In the meantime, he will continue to play a vital role for our program with his leadership."
    I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.



J. Thomas McNamara
Sports Editor
Decatur Tribune

Email Tom at JThomasMc@aol.com

Check out McNamara's "Irish Stew" every week in the print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

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