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.