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Ohio coach John Groce next name on Illinois’ list

John Groce

John Groce

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Updated: April 27, 2012 8:12AM

The focus of Illinois’ coaching search shifted Sunday to Ohio’s John Groce after Butler’s Brad
Stevens issued a statement saying he isn’t going anywhere.

Groce has been contacted by the Illini through a third party, sources said.

In a statement similar to the one VCU coach Shaka Smart issued
after speculation about him moving
to Illinois reached a fever pitch, Stevens said: ‘‘I am happy and
extremely grateful to be the head coach at Butler University, and I am already looking forward to next season and the start of our postseason workouts in April.’’

Stevens met with Illini search
officials Sunday, multiple sources told the Sun-Times. Although Stevens denied contact with Illinois on Friday, a representative for the school was in touch with someone close to Stevens, a source said.

Even though the Illini were prepared to come up with an eight-year deal worth more than $20 million, Stevens seemed more interested in listening politely than in seriously considering taking the job.

‘‘They may even have called Brad to ask about John Groce,’’ one source said, mentioning someone else on athletic director Mike Thomas’ radar after guiding the Bobcats to their second strong NCAA tournament in three years.

Stevens and Groce, who worked together briefly at Butler, remain close. Stevens was Butler’s coordinator of basketball operations in 2000-01, when Groce was a Bulldogs assistant.

While Stevens, who guided Butler to runner-up finishes in the NCAA tournament the last two seasons, is justifiably the hotter name, one source said Groce might be better suited to take the reins of the Illinois program.

‘‘John is more outgoing, more gregarious,’’ the source said. ‘‘He’d handle a recruiting street fight
better. He wouldn’t win them all, but he wouldn’t back away.’’

Groce, 40, not only fits the hiring
profile of Thomas, who plucked new football coach Tim Beckman from the Mid-American Conference, but he also would be more likely to be a long-termer at Illinois than some high-profile candidates who might be tempted to leave for other jobs.

Candidates who still might surface include Duke assistant Chris Collins, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins and former New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus. All have the support of prominent boosters, sources said, and Thomas needs to be sensitive to their opinions.

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