Mark Tupper's blog

Ekey will push for Illini starting role immediately

2013-04-17T17:45:00Z Ekey will push for Illini starting role immediatelyMark Tupper
April 17, 2013 5:45 pm  • 

So John Groce’s efforts to re-stock the Illini basketball shelves continue.

The addition of Illinois State fifth-year transfer Jon Ekey gives the Illini an experienced shooter-defender-player who can step in and contribute immediately on a roster that while talented, is pretty thin on experience.

When assessing Ekey, it’s important to visualize what he can become in Groce’s system.

Groce liked him when he was playing high school ball in Independence, Mo. That’s why he tried to lure him to Ohio University. He liked Ekey because he’s the kind of “stretch 4” that Groce wants in his program, a forward with 3-point shooting range who can take advantage of the shooting opportunities that come his way when guards and slashers attack the paint then kick to the open man.

Tim Jankovich’s system was fairly similar to Groce’s in the way he used his power forward. But Dan Muller has another system and he wanted his power forward to post up more. That’s not Ekey’s strength, so he decided to look elsewhere.

Contacted by Creighton, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Nevada, Ekey turned to the comfort level he knew he had with Groce and with current Illini assistant Paris Parham, who had been an assistant at Illinois State.

And Ekey told me Wednesday he could easily visualize himself thriving in Groce’s offense, having seen some of the looks that routinely came to Tyler Griffey and Myke Henry last season.

“I watched a few of Illinois’ games and some of the things (Tyler Griffey) did, that’s definitely my game,” Ekey said. “I can play the pick-and-pop game and if I’m not open I can help get other guys open.

“But my best offense is being the guy who is always ready to shoot.”

Ekey will return home following his graduation from Illinois State on May 11 with a degree in business administration. Then he’ll arrive in Champaign in late May or very early June. He’s curious to see how he fits in.

“I’m a little anxious to see what happens over there,” he said. “Hopefully, everyone won’t be thinking, ‘What’s this fifth-year guy doing?’

“But I’ll show up ready to work. I’ll earn respect and I’ll work my butt off trying to get the team better.”

Illinois’ experience with fifth-year transfer Sam McLaurin, who was instantly popular and was named a team captain, should help Ekey.

Ekey isn’t even making a fuss about his uniform number.

“I wore No. 22 at Illinois State but I understand someone already has plans for that,” he said. “So at Illinois I’ll be No. 33.”

Groce will expect Ekey to contribute instantly and if nothing else, he immediately pushes Myke Henry, who had a leg up on the starting job until this development.

“Jon is a skilled forward who will be a great fit in our system,” Groce said Wednesday. “He has a high basketball IQ, is an exceptional shooter and also defends, blocks shots and rebounds.

“Jon will make an immediate impact on our program by providing experience to a young roster.”

Groce also offered his first public comments Wednesday on Seton Hall transfer Aaron Cosby, a guard who will not be eligible until the 2014-15 season.

“Aaron is a versatile guard who impacts the game in a number of areas,” Groce said. “He was a 40 percent 3-point shooter in the Big Eaast, so he’s obviously a tremendous shooter.

“But in addition to his shooting and scoring ability, he can handle the ball and make plays for others. He’ll bring leadership to our team and adds proven experience to our backcourt.”

ILLINI TO SCORE – Proof that Illinois is serious about increasing its presence in the Chicago area came Wednesday with news that Illini basketball and football games as well as weekly coaches’ shows will be broadcast on radio station WSCR (670, The Score).

Illinois has had a weak Chicago radio presence and has been overshadowed not only by Northwestern, but also by Northern Illinois University and DePaul.

But this new deal calls for the all-sports station to carry Illini basketball starting in 2013-14 and Illini football in 2014. WIND (560 AM) will continue to broadcast Illini football this fall.

WSCR’s signal strength will boom Illini coverage throughout the Midwest.

The good news is that Illini basketball seems to be entering a period of increased excitement, and those successes will be easier to follow in the Chicago area, where both basketball and football are trying to increase their recruiting presence.

The bad news is that football is struggling to stay out of the Big Ten Conference basement and those struggles will also be under greater scrutiny in the Chicago area.

Overall, though, this is a very positive and long overdue step for Illini athletics.

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(11) Comments

  1. Mikeydamouth
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    Mikeydamouth - April 24, 2013 5:21 pm
    I guess that alignment makes sense in a geographic way. Right now they play 18 conference games. I guess that will increase? If a team plays everyone in their division twice and plays the other division once, that comes out to 19 games in the conference. I wonder how the schedule will pan out. Have you seen anything on this? I wonder if the league has this figured out yet. Anyone have any info? Thanks.
  2. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - April 22, 2013 3:04 pm
    Proposed Big Ten Alignment 2015-2016
    East West
    Indiana Illinois
    Maryland Iowa
    Michigan Minnesota
    Michigan State Nebraska
    Ohio State Northwestern
    Penn State Purdue
    Rutgers Wisconsin
  3. crkcrk2
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    crkcrk2 - April 20, 2013 5:11 pm
    I don't recall getting a Mr. Basketball from another state.

    Indiana also has one from Wisconsin. They may start three frosh.
  4. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - April 19, 2013 3:32 pm
    hard to believe he hasn't moved up in the national rankings since he is obviously highly thought of in one of the more populous states in the country.

    now had he signed with Duke or UK or someone like that - he'd have gotten a lot more love most likely.
  5. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - April 19, 2013 2:18 pm
    FYI..........per Loren Tate. M Morgan was voted Mr. Basketball or POY,( however you want to say it), in Ohio for the past season. He averaged 24.7 ppg & 9.6 rpg against the biggest schools in the state. Have we EVER gotten a Mr. bball from another state? If we did, I don't remember it.
  6. sugmeister
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    sugmeister - April 19, 2013 11:35 am
    sure most of you are familiar with the loyalty board. some very good chatter on there last night regarding recruiting. check out post #954. excellent post. might mean nothing but then again coming from a guy with HOC past history and with his experience observing past recruits - I feel good about it.

    I can't even imagine the state we would be in had the 2011-12 team managed to pull out a couple of those close losses and turn them into wins. I know I would not feel nearly as optimistic about our future as I do now.
  7. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - April 19, 2013 8:59 am
    Your Dream school. That's the message they need to get across to the talent in the Chicago area. A marketing campaign from Champaign. And show em a winner of course that one really helps.
  8. Pistol Pete
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    Pistol Pete - April 18, 2013 2:25 pm
    Red - I'd say the positive vibe is reaching Chicago if the Score is going to start broadcasting Illini bball games next year. That should help the recruiting process there.
    Had our informal Illini lunch today & DecIllini told us that Ekey set an ISU record for blocked shots in a season during his 1st year. That tells me he can not only score, but he also defends.
  9. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - April 18, 2013 9:26 am
    Hope this positive vibe we are all enjoying is reaching all the way to Chicago!
  10. Red in a blue state
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    Red in a blue state - April 18, 2013 9:21 am
    Adding a player who has shot for a 40% average from the three any season is a real nice addition. Groce will find a way to get him open and get the ball to him.
    Groce is reeling in players he has had past recruiting relationships with, does he know of any more? He obviously left a positive impression on them during the recruitment process. I don't recall Weber doing this in his early years here. Of course come to think of it he didin't need to did he?
  11. illini4fan
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    illini4fan - April 17, 2013 9:31 pm
    John Groce has me so excited about basketball i can't wait for next season and i believe it's only going to keep getting better! I think we will be better next year than what some people think (Michigan was very young and look what they did). Then we will get even better recruits i believe. Wish we could just skip over football season, lol.... GO ILLINI!
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