By Joe Henricksen
The much-talked about and debated coaching staff of John Groce's at Illinois is now complete, at least in terms of his three on-the-road assistants. Missouri assistant Isaac Chew is expected to be named to the staff and will join Jamall Walker and Dustin Ford in Champaign as Groce and his staff start preparing for the upcoming evaluation period.
Make no mistake about it, this is Groce's staff. This is the staff he wanted and shaped. This is the staff he is ready to go to battle with in the recruiting wars in Big Ten country and throughout the Midwest, including Chicago and its suburbs. Now it's time to get out and work, establish new ties and solidify the ones the current staff previously had.
Chew spent the past year as an assistant to Frank Haith at Missouri, which just completed a 30-5 season in which the Tigers were ranked among the top 10 teams in the country most of the year before falling to Norfolk State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. And he was an integral part of the Murray State program for four years under coach Billy Kennedy, including the 2009-2010 season in which the Racers won 31 games and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt his track record includes being a part of winning programs.
Earlier this week I spoke with Chew regarding the Illinois job and all the expectations that come with it. While Chew does bring recruiting versatility, with his ties in Kansas City and St. Louis, he will also need to be instrumental in recruiting Chicago. He has Chicago roots, graduating from Wells High School on Chicago's far Northwest side and growing up on the city's West Side, and has dabbled in recruiting Chicago during his time at Murray State and Missouri.
What stuck out in a couple of those conversations we had earlier this week about the Illinois job, was that he understood the job and what he specifically needed to do to reach out and establish the relationships needed. Chew heads into this job with his eyes wide open. He gets it, wants it and was energized to make Chicago a priority while respecting all the people he will be dealing with on the Chicago basketball scene and what the job entails.
Chew will aim high. He's a worker who will get after it. A couple of years ago I sat with Chew at a P.F. Chang's for dinner at an AAU event in Vegas and discussed recruiting. I remember talking with him about the positive aspects of recruiting to Murray State at the time. I noted what an advantage it was being the best team and program in the league, but Chew always talked about how it was imperative, a must, to aim higher than Ohio Valley Conference type recruits. With that, he had a recruiting obstacle of trying to recruit high-level players to a lower-level league, which is never an easy thing to do but had success doing.
That recruiting drive and mindset paid off greatly for the Racers. In addition to several key players Chew recruited for two OVC title teams while he was on campus, Chew was responsible for bringing in Murray State's three leading scorers off this year's 31-2 NCAA Tournament team -- Isaiah Canaan, Donte Poole and Ivan Aska.
While the Chicago area hasn't been Chew's recruiting stomping grounds, he is familiar with the culture of recruiting Chicago and is highly versatile when you combine his Division I coaching experience with his junior college (coached at NJCAA powerhouse Indian Hills in Iowa) and AAU (helped develop the Kansas City Pump N' Run) background.
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