By Joe Henricksen
With the expected hire of former Illinois State assistant coach Paris Parham to fill out his coaching staff, John Groce, the first-year Illini head coach will have solidified his staff the way he intended to -- hiring an all-around coach who covets the Illinois job, adds the right chemistry and complements his present staff. In addition, he's bringing a highly-respected "Chicago guy" with endless ties and relationships with city and suburban basketball coaches, players and families to Champaign.
This search for an assistant coach was as thorough of a process as any head coach or program could go through. Groce spent extensive time in both vetting the candidates and, along with his staff, sitting down and talking with a very short finalist list over the past few weeks.
In an exhaustive search, which meant weeding through a lengthy list of names and "candidates" that clearly weren't fits (some even laughable) even before getting to a final short list of three or four viable candidates, Groce hired a coach who offers experience in all facets of college coaching, from recruiting to scouting to player development.
"Paris was an outstanding coach, scout, mentor and asset to our program," says Tim Jankovich, the former head coach at Illinois State who is now at SMU. "As a coach, he's the entire package in every area, across the board."
Jankovich, who has a feel for the state of Illinois after coaching at ISU for five years and spending a brief time at Illinois as an assistant under Bill Self, believes Parham is also the perfect fit for the Illinois job.
"It's great to see that in a world where the earth is round and things can be just perfect, that Paris Parham to Illinois was meant to be," says Jankovich. "I really believe Paris was born and raised to be an assistant coach at Illinois. I can't think of a coach with a better background, feel and desire for this particular job than Paris."
Parham is personable, well-liked and connected throughout the city, as well as the entire Chicago area and state of Illinois. He can recruit the city, suburbs and rural areas. And this is the job Parham desired and wanted.
Parham, who was instrumental in helping build the Illinois State program under Jankovich that averaged 21 wins a season, played in three MVC title games and reached four NITs the past five years, was left in a peculiar position during a once-in-a-blue-moon coaching search at SMU. Jankovich was tabbed as an assistant and head coach-in-waiting at SMU, which didn't allow him to bring any of his former staff. Meanwhile, Rob Judson, another valued ISU assistant, was assured a spot on the Redbird staff when Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller was named head coach.
While Parham fielded a few other coaching offers over the past month, it was the Illinois job he dreamed of and believed was the ideal fit for him. With the connections he has to the city, suburbs and throughout the midwest, most notably Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana, along with his roots to the state and the immediate respect he gained for Groce during the interview process, it was clear to him.
But make no mistake, while Parham is well versed as an experienced coach in terms of player development, scouting and player relationships, the hire is a hit with the all-important Chicagoland area. There is now a definitive connection between the University of Illinois basketball program and the Chicago basketball community.
"He's the right fit for this job right now," says Rob Smith of Simeon, a coach and program that has had a long and close relationship with Parham for years. "The strong ties he has to Chicago are legitimate. I know he also has ties throughout the state and the Midwest, but when it comes to all the people in Chicago, he has great, true, long-lasting relationships with coaches, players, their families and this community. People respect Paris and genuinely want to help him."
Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter spoke of the legitimacy Parham brings to the table and the Illinois program with the hire.
"This is a legitimate coach with legitimate ties," Slaughter says of Parham. "This is actually the first time in a long time the University of Illinois has had someone on staff with legitimate Chicago roots and ties. He actually has experience recruiting Chicago. He knows the city, the landscape and the right people. He gets it. And he is ready to go from day one. Paris has the ability to get definitive answers at the very early stage of the recruiting process. This was a no-brainer hire for Illinois."
Smith believes the hiring of Parham will only speed up the process for Groce and his staff of getting to know and understand Chicago and all that goes into recruiting the area.
"I think that will really help Illinois a lot," Smith says of how Parham brings instant recognition between the city and the University of Illinois. "He has ties inside the community, strong ties. He is respected. I thought this was the best hire they [Illinois] could possibly make."
The 40-year-old Parham brings a wide-ranging background, with 14 years of college coaching experience, time spent coaching in the AAU world and being a former high school coach in the Chicago Public League. In 2006, Parham was named one of the City/Suburban Hoops Report's top five young high school coaches in the state of Illinois.
Aside from his college, high school and AAU coaching experience, Parham is true Chicago. He was born and raised in Chicago, played at and graduated from Dunbar on the city's South Side and has recruited the city and suburbs extensively. Parham completely understands the fabric and culture of Chicago basketball, which is no easy task, and has long-lasting ties and relationships with prep coaches, AAU coaches, players and their families which date back decades.
Having coached and lived in the Bloomington-Normal area for the past five years, Parham has developed a close relationship with Normal U-High 2014 star Keita Bates-Diop and his family, a key Illinois recruiting target.
"I think he's one of the underrated guys in the business," Mike Mullins of the Illinois Wolves told the Hoops Report recently. "He's one of the few legit candidates that makes sense at Illinois. He's a Public League guy, but he has shown that he can recruit the entire Chicagoland area and throughout the state. He's not beholden to one group, one sector or organization. He's done a great job cultivating relationships. I wish Paris and the Illinois staff success."
Parham's relationship with Tai Streets of the respected and talent-filled Meanstreets program goes way back as one of Streets' coaches was recruited by and played for Parham when he was an assistant at Maryland-Eastern Shore.
"I think it's a great hire for Illinois," says Streets. "I can only say great things about him in all my dealings with him. He can recruit and he can teach and he's well respected."
Curie coach Mike Oliver, who has been a successful city coach and coach's junior star Cliff Alexander, believes Parham can help unite the city when it comes to Illinois basketball. Parham's neutrality over the years will pay dividends, says Oliver.
"He's one guy I think we can rally around because he's been so neutral," says Oliver. "With Paris he was born here, lived here, grew up here, played here, coached here and he can deal with both sides of the city. He's a guy that everyone can get along with. He's a true guy."
Parham, who the Hoops Report believed was the ideal Illinois assistant hire from the get-go, is that "Chicago guy" so many people referred to when Groce began assembling his staff. Hiring a "Chicago guy" isn't, nor should it be, a mandate. Hiring a "Chicago guy" is only beneficial if there is a legitimate, quality "Chicago guy" candidate, which for this particular job at this particular time there are very few out there who fit the bill. Groce now has that guy.
With Parham in the fold, Groce -- and the Illinois fan base -- should feel comfortable and excited about the staff. Groce now has a balanced, very well-rounded staff that should complement one another well when it comes to both player development and recruiting. Illinois fans should be enthused about the fact this staff has strong ties to areas outside the state of Illinois, with Groce, Jamall Walker and Dustin Ford all with connections throughout the Midwest.
When it comes to recruiting the Public League and the Chicago area, it's more than a one-man job. It has to be a tag-team effort among assistants, along with a head coach who is invigorated by recruiting the talent pool in Chicago. Illinois now has the familiar and affable Parham to go along with Walker, who has made a push in the city and suburbs, and a head coach in Groce who has shown he's ready and willing to establish ties and roots in recruiting the area.
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