It’s a Dickens of a time for Illini basketball

John+Groce+Ohio+State+v+Illinois+DP3HkMfySUAlFrom the Saturday, July 16, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

“A Tale of Two Cities” wasn’t written about, well, Champaign-Urbana, but the novel’s opening line does apply quite well to the current topsy-turvy state of basketball down at the University of Illinois.

With injuries, arrests and losses piling up, Illini coach John Groce has had a Dickens of a time getting his program on solid footing since his arrival in 2012. But this week, an orange-and-blue beacon finally cut through the murk when 5-star center Jeremiah Tilmon, an East St. Louis native, pledged allegiance to his home state school.

The verbal commitment was a huge shot in the arm for Groce – and Illini fans – after a string of painful swings and misses with previous high-profile recruiting targets. In the fall of 2017, Tilmon is set to join fellow recruits Da’Monte Williams of Peoria Manual and Javon Pickett of Belleville East in what’s shaping up into a blockbuster class for the Illini¬ – especially if highly touted Jordan Goodwin of Belleville Althoff also jumps on board.

Thanks to Tilmon, this week might have been Groce’s best time at Illinois. But for Illini hoops we’re also still in the worst of times, and the coach needs more than recruits to save his job this season.

He needs wins.

Having missed the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive years – something unseen at Illinois since the 1970s – I’ve believed that Groce needs to not only make the tourney next March, but then win two games to truly secure his job. With Tilmon’s commitment, I’d knock that down to one tournament win.

With a veteran Illini roster, reaching the second round of the Big Dance this coming season is doable for Groce. But he still has to do it to get a chance to coach his prized recruit the season after that.

Go Cubzzz …

After an incredible start, there’s no denying that the Cubs have played some bad baseball of late. But I’m still not losing sleep over it.

Mainly because the Cubs are now finally getting some.

Between June 19 and the All-Star Break, the North Siders saw their lead in the National League Central shrink from 12½ games to seven. Not coincidentally, the team also had zero days off during that span.

“Even with makeup games, your body is not made to do that,” Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist said of the team’s 24-game stretch without a break from June 17 to July 10. “Your mind is not made to do that … When you’re playing that many days, it ends up not being as much about excellence as it is about money and players’ endurance.”

The good news is that, according to USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale, the Cubs will be able to spend all but six of the first 37 days after the All-Star Break in their own beds. With better rest, I suspect we’ll see better baseball.


Grab some bench?

At 45-43, the White Sox entered the All-Star break above .500 for the first time since 2012, but Robin Ventura’s own managerial record since 2012 stood only 342-394.

Unless Ventura can spark the Sox to start playing again like they did in April, I think it’s time for Jerry Reinsdorf to shake up his dugout with a new skipper. My suggestion? Give former Cubs manager and current Sox bench coach Rick Renteria a try-out.

No Bull

With Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, are the Bulls better than last season? Probably. With Wade, Rondo and no more Derrick Rose injury drama, are they more interesting than last season? Definitely.

I still really don’t know what the Bulls’ long-term plan is, but their current configuration is at least compelling in the short term.

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