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Assistant Isaac Chew’s return to his home state will be key for Illinois

John Groce

Ohio head coach John Groce directs his team during the first half of an NCAA tournament Midwest Regional college basketball game against North Carolina, Friday, March 23, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)


During the latter stages of Bruce Weber’s tenure at Illinois much was made about the program’s diminishing presence on the Chicago recruiting scene.

A city blessed with talent has gifted Illinois with many great players over the years, but that wasn’t happening the last couple of seasons.

Combine that with teams that didn’t seem to reach their full potential and enter John Groce.

And while it wasn’t his first move, the decision to make former Missouri assistant Isaac Chew his lead assistant three weeks ago is a big one for the Illinois program.

Chew’s a Chicago native, having grown up on the West Side and played his high school ball at Wells High, and his understanding of the city and its relationships will be an asset to Groce as he looks to rejuvenate the program.

“You’re going to fight some big uphill battles,” Chew said of Chicago recruiting wars to Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune.

“We’re all-in trying to get the best players in the country. You may miss sometimes. It’s who do you get when you miss? Nobody cares where kids are from when you’re winning.”

Forming relationships in Chicago are important for Groce and his staff, with one reason being the presence of one of the nation’s best players in the 2013 class in Jabari Parker.

But Chew has been a successful recruiter regardless of where he’s been, as he was part of a staff that won multiple OVC titles at Murray State before being a part of Frank Haith’s staff at Missouri.

Geography’s important, especially with a major city with a lot of talent is just over an hour away, but as Chew noted in the above quote winning can cure many ills.

Groce and his staff will have to account for the early departure of Meyers Leonard inside, but with Joseph Bertrand, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson returning there’s talent on hand.

Whether or not Chew’s arrival in Champaign pays dividends with Chicago’s prep stars will depend on what happens on the floor more than anything. But the connections certainly won’t hurt.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.