Illinois basketball coach John Groce decided to "start with a clean slate'' and will not offer assistant coach Jerrance Howard on spot on his coaching staff.
CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois basketball coach John Groce decided to "start with a clean slate'' and will not offer assistant coach Jerrance Howard on spot on his coaching staff.
Groce met with Howard three times but informed the recruiting specialist Monday night of his final decision. Groce has one full-time assistant coaching spot open.
"I made the decision that I'm going to hire outside,'' Groce said early Tuesday afternoon.
With Groce already hiring former Ohio assistants Jamall Walker and Dustin Ford, he's like most coaches. They surrounded themselves with guys they already trust. Nevertheless, Howard's recruiting ability obviously peaked some interest from Groce.
"A lot of people asked me questions about Jerrance Howard over the last week,'' Groce said. "I considered him very, very strongly. His work speaks for itself.
"He's done a great job coaching and recruiting. This place means a lot to him.''
Howard played a key role in landing all six of the current freshmen on the roster, and his hiring helped the Illini land juniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. A former Peoria Central High School guard played at Illinois in a career that ended in 2004, Howard became a free agent as Groce attempted to fill the coaching spots without overlapping strengths, he said.
Walker has recruiting ties in Chicago and St. Louis markets. He also coaches guards and wings. When looking for assistants, Groce gauges their strengths in recruiting areas plus the ability to coach and help in game management, player development and scouting.
"He played here,'' Groce said. "He coached here, and that made it a little bit unique. His wife went to school here. I had to take all that into consideration.
"Normally, I would move in the direction of having my own guys. That's how impressive he was. I had to weigh all those decisions. At the end of the day, I felt like I wanted to have a clean slate and start from scratch.''
Howard has a contract that pays him $180,000 per season through next year. When he lands a job, the Illini are off the hook for the salary, a school spokesman said, unlike the contract of former coach Bruce Weber. His $3.9 million buyout was guaranteed, regardless of his contract with Kansas State.
Groce would prefer to make his third coaching by the weekend, when recruiters can leave campus during a spring evaluation period. Names mentioned for the vacant slot include former Ohio State assistant Brandon Miller, Florida State assistant Dennis Gates and former Illini center Deon Thomas, who is the head coach at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.
It's unknown if Thomas would accept a job on Groce's staff outside the three full-time assistants, such as director of basketball operations and video coordinator. Groce wasn't sure of the exact titles of the other hires on his staff, depending on how he fills the staff.
Earlier Tuesday, former Illini center Meyers Leonard said he signed with Excel Sports Management, where Mark Steinberg is a partner, after Leonard declared for the NBA draft last week. Steinberg is a Peoria Richwoods graduate and former Illinois basketball walk-on who is Tiger Woods' agent. Leonard spent part of last week at the Master's, a nice perk for the son of a golf pro.
Leonard will move to Long Island after the completion of the spring semester to train closer to his agent, and he is expected to work out for six to eight NBA teams before the draft on June 28.
"A lot of people say no boys allowed (in the NBA),'' Leonard said. "It's going to be a tough transition for me. I'm jumping into a man's world at the early age of 20. I'll be able to transition well. I will have the right people around me.''
Leonard "teetered'' between going to the NBA and returning to Illinois. He met for one hour on Groce's second day on the job, but Leonard's goal is "to prove myself and make myself a lottery pick.''
Leonard plans to move his mother, Tracie, to be with him when he lands with a team. He is projected as a middle first-rounder.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.