Can Groce turn on the lights this season?


By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

John Groce has an interesting analogy about execution.

In a recent teleconference, the Illinois basketball coach made the claim that working hard can only get a team so far. Without proper execution, hard work won’t produce results.

Groce, being a basketball minded man, gave an explanation that most common folk can understand. He referenced the 1989 holiday classic, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

“I always use the Christmas Vacation movie as (an) analogy for it,” Groce said. “Chevy Chase is out on the front lawn, the lights aren’t working, his father-in-law is making fun of him, and his daughter basically says, ‘but grandpa, he worked hard,’ and grandpa says ‘so do washing machines’.”

First of all, that’s a great movie.

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    While Groce may not have the best judgment when it comes to creating starting lineups, it appears he has good taste in movies. National Lampoon has made a lot of flops, but Christmas Vacation is definitely top-five — depending on how you rank the vacation movies — and, of course, behind Animal House.

    When breaking it down, Groce’s reference makes a lot of sense. Chase’s character, Clark Griswold, puts in a ton of work and puts up 25,000 lights on his house. However, it’s hard to acknowledge Griswold’s dedication and work ethic when the lights fail to work.

    The same can be said about the Illini. The effort and attitude might be there, but at the end of the day, without any accolades or achievements, it’s hard to really appreciate the work.

    Under Groce, Illinois’ best Big Ten standing finish is seventh place. Its best conference tournament finish has been the quarterfinals. Only one of Groce’s teams has made the NCAA Tournament, but that was in 2013 with a roster of Bruce Weber’s recruits.

    Groce prides his teams on toughness and togetherness. While I agree that’s a good mentality to have, it hasn’t always resulted in winning games. Winning games is fun. Remember 2005?

    But, that 2005 season happened over a decade ago and this year looks to be on track as another disappointment, similar to recent years.

    Groce and Griswold are more alike than different. Both are likable guys. You can’t help but root for them. They’re both optimistic, well-intended family men who face adversity — lots of adversity.

    Griswold deals with the pressure of the holidays, pleasing the relatives with a great Christmas and using a Christmas bonus to build a pool in his backyard.

    I’m unsure if Groce has any home improvement plans, but he’s certainly under pressure to please the athletic department and Illinois fans. Each season at Illinois his win column has decreased. His road record is 15-34 and he is 10-29 against top-25 teams, according to Illinois basketball’s website.

    I personally think Groce and his players work hard. But it’s evident that they struggle to get results.

    Griswold eventually gets the Christmas lights to work and it’s a glorious site. The holiday season doesn’t go exactly as planned, but it all works out for him, including a Christmas bonus to build the pool.

    Groce is trying everything he can to get those lights on.

    There’s still time for Illinois to turn this season around. Eleven games remain for the season as the Illini sit 12-8 and 2-5 in the Big Ten.

    If Illinois starts executing, Groce could create a Christmas miracle — albeit a few months late.

    Who knows? Maybe the lights will never come on for Groce. However, at least he works hard.

    But so do washing machines.

    Matt is a Junior in Business

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