Players get new workouts, one-on-one coaching and an energetic young staff.

The honeymoon isn't over for Illinois basketball.

Coach John Groce marveled over the team's attitude and looked forward to summer workouts, a change in NCAA rules that will especially benefit a program in transition such as Illinois. The Illini still talk about the energy from a young staff and the new workouts, such on a one-on-one coaching where it's just one player, one coach and a couple managers chasing the loose balls.

"I'm really liking the workouts,'' said Illini guard Brandon Paul. "This is the first time in college that we've done one-on-one (instruction). I got better after the first day.''

With four one-on-one workouts for each player during the last month, that's a heavy workload for everyone.

"Even the managers are working harder, so everyone is getting better around here,'' Paul said.

That was a hectic first month for Groce, who built a staff, met and analyzed the current Illini and put together a recruiting plan, not to mention searched for a house. The electricity from a staff headed by Groce, 40, and three 30-something assistants made an impression on the Illini. By making strong decisions, Groce seemed to win over the fan base.

His transition was made easier by NCAA rules changes that allow coaches eight hours of access to players each week during the summer. No more than two hours a week can be spent with on-the-court instruction, but the ability to coach and continue the bonding process during the summer is a key element for Groce in his first summer in the Ubben Basketball Complex.

"It's perfect timing for the new summer access rule,'' Groce said. "We've eight weeks with them where there's the same time allotment we have in the spring and fall.

"It will really benefit these guys. I hope they're half excited as we are to work with them.''

The Illini closed the spring semester workouts Thursday, because NCAA rules create a week off between workouts and semester finals. The Illini begin finals May 4. The players were given workouts to follow during the month before the summer semester starts on June 11.

"I'm looking forward to letting them go home a bit, get them back and work with them again,'' said Illini assistant Dustin Ford, who works with the big men.

Assistant Isaac Chew works with the wings and assistant Jamall Walker handles the guards.

"Those guys are committed to the development of our players at a high level,'' Groce said. "I was able to hire three guys who are all smorgasboard guys. They can coach, scout, recruit and develop players, rather than someone that's more pigeon-holed in some areas.

"The development piece is the most important piece. A lot of people talk about recruiting, but you have to develop them once they get here.''

This Illini staff is emphasizing player improvement, although -- honestly -- that's not much different than any coaching staff.

"We want to get one percent better everyday,'' Groce said. "If you do that, it gives you a chance.''

Groce would rather his players stay close to campus this summer than join all-star tours overseas. None of the Illini have expressed an interest in making a trip.

"With a new staff, it's important that we're around them,'' Groce said. "They get to know us better, and we get to know them better.''

Building relationships with his players is a priority, Groce said.

"Getting to know the individual is important,'' Groce said. "You've got to know their game, know them as people, know them as students. The better you can connect with a kid, the easier it is to develop a young man.

"My dad always said, 'They don't really care about what you know until they know how much you care.' ''

Groce and his staff are still getting to know the Illini.

 

  John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.   Eye on the Illini Notes from Illinois basketball. Get a game -- Illinois has one game left to fill on next season's schedule, the date at the United Center in December. Alabama is one possibility. Cheat sheet -- Guard Brandon Paul's to-do list for next season is improvement on "finishing games and just consistency on my jump shots.'' Pass play -- The Illini will search for help at point guard and big man, but "we had options come up that we passed on,'' coach John Groce said. Officially -- SMU announced former Illini recruiter Jerrance Howard as an assistant Friday, when it was learned coach Larry Brown will clean house with the roster. Brown on Howard: "Jerrance came highly recommended by Kansas coach Bill Self as a person that would be able to help us build SMU to national prominence as we move into the Big East.''