Groce discusses class of 2014 signings

As college basketball’s early signing period continued this weekend, Illinois head coach John Groce addressed the media Saturday to discuss the Illini’s two signings for the class of 2014.

Illinois signed two forwards: Leron Black, of Memphis, Tenn., and Michael Finke, of Champaign. Groce did not address Chicago center Cliff Alexander’s decision to sign with Kansas over Illinois or Louisville, Ky., guard Quentin Snider’s last-minute decommitment from Illinois in favor of Louisville.

He did, however, address some of the negative comments made about his program over the past few days.

“I understand there was an article written about Illinois basketball being put in its place,” Groce said. “I’m going to tell you what place it’s in: It’s in a great place. That’s what place it’s in.”

Groce credited coaches and players for the strides they’ve made in the 20 months since he was hired as head coach. He did admit that events over the previous 48 hours had him fired up.

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    “Nothing has changed in terms of our vision and where we want to go,” Groce said. “The freight train’s moving and you better jump on. We want guys that want to be on board with two feet. If you don’t want to be on with two feet, you’re going to get run over.”

    Other than that, the focus was on Black and Finke.

    Black is a 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward who is ranked in the top 50 by multiple recruiting websites and who Groce said can play the 3 and 4. Black picked Illinois over Indiana, Ohio State and Connecticut among other schools.

    Groce said he likes Black’s versatility and athleticism, but that his toughness might be his biggest asset.

    “He has a motor that just does not stop running,” Groce said. “He wants to win and he has a nasty physical streak.”

    Finke is the hometown hero from Centennial High School in Champaign. He is a 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward who is generally regarded as a three-star prospect. His dad Jeff played football and basketball at Illinois.

    “He’s a relentless worker,” Groce said of the younger Finke. “He gets up frequently and works out in the morning when no one’s watching.”

    Groce said Finke has committed himself to getting stronger. He also called Finke a high-level shooter.

    “His body is completely different from what it looked like a year ago,” Groce said. “He’s really worked (at it). He lifts religiously.”

    At the high school level, Finke is one of the taller players and plays mostly in the post. Groce said he will continue to get better in the paint as he gets stronger.

    Finke will join Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice as the second Illini from Champaign when he joins the program next year. Groce said it’s “neat” for Finke to play in his hometown, but he was thrilled to have him no matter where he was from.

    A pair of other highly recruited prospects could have been joining Black and Finke in Champaign. But Groce wasn’t talking about what could have been.

    “We’re here first and foremost to celebrate the addition of two not only really good players but great young men,” Groce said. “They embody — in every way, shape or form — as to what we define as an Illini guy.”

    Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.