Groce trying to reinvigorate a young Illinois squad

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Groce trying to reinvigorate a young Illinois squad

ROSEMONT Every coach seems giddy at the beginning of a new season.

Illinois coach John Groce says hes having a blast, even at practice.

Groce, who replaced the fired Bruce Weber in March, has been impressed with the enthusiasm of his new team.

Its been maybe as fun as any time Ive been in coaching to go to practice, said Groce, who was the head coach at Ohio University. Theyre excited to be there. Theyre passionate. They want to learn. They have exceeded my expectations in that regard.

Likewise, Groce has made his objectives known. At Thursdays Big Ten Media Day, Illinois players Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson wore orange wristbands with the inscriptions TNT which stands for toughness and togetherness, as well as the opening date of the NCAA tournament.

Groce, 41, will try to reinvigorate a team that lost 12 of its final 14 games last season to finish 17-15 and ninth in the Big Ten, missing the postseason. The Illini return four starters.

We really appreciate them wanting to come here and help us get better and back on track, said Paul, a senior guard. Coach Groce is real animated and thats something thats helped us. He brings so much energy to the table. We come to practice and were really energetic. Everyones talking to each other. Everyones helping each other out.

Richardson said the young coaching staff relates to the players, and those coaches frequently use social media. Richardson also appreciated that Groce took the time to call players family members after he was hired Groce phoned Richardsons parents and uncle.

I say to the staff all the time, The first step to reaching our potential is getting to know our team and getting to know our individual players at a high level, Groce said.

Groces resume has also commanded respect from the Illini players. As the No. 13 seed in the 2012 NCAA tournament under Groce, Ohio upset fourth-seeded Michigan and fell to top-seeded North Carolina in overtime in the Sweet 16. Groce went 85-56 at Ohio and he was previously an assistant at Ohio State, Xavier and Butler.

We have to listen to what Coach says, Richardson said. Hes been to the NCAA tournament a lot of times. He knows whats he talking about, especially with a team like Ohio. They beat Michigan in the NCAA tournament, and we lost to them twice last year. He knows what hes talking about.

Illinois is new territory. Groce said the Illini fans are unbelievable in their support, and he has received standing ovations in front of hundreds of supporters at community events. He wants to continue to make a mark with recruiting in Chicago, signing the right ones.

At Ohio, he said he was focused on his team playing tough, being disruptive on defense and taking care of the ball. That carries over to Illinois.

I think about the 05-06 team we had at Ohio State. I want to say that team was picked maybe ninth or 10th (in the Big Ten), and they won the league, Groce said. Im more concerned about process and doing things the right way and getting caught up in the journey.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The making of Reign Men

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Cubs Talk Podcast: The making of Reign Men

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull sits down with CSN executive producers Ryan McGuffey and Sarah Lauch, the creators of 'Reign Men: The Story Behind Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, which premieres March 27 at 9:30 p.m. on CSN.

McGuffey and Lauch share their experience making the 52-minute documentary as they sifted through hours of sound from the likes of Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and more recapping one of the greatest baseball games ever played.

Plus, hear a sneak peak of 'Reign Men’ as Heyward and Epstein describe their perspective of the Rajai Davis game-tying homer and that brief rain delay that led to Heyward’s epic speech.

Check out the latest Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Bears adding Mark Sanchez shouldn't come as a surprise

Bears adding Mark Sanchez shouldn't come as a surprise

The Bears went into the 2017 offseason with a clear plan to make changes, presumably positive ones, at the quarterback position. The idea was and always is to improve the quality of players at this or any position.
 
With the Bears agreeing to terms with former Jet/Eagle/Bronco/Cowboy Mark Sanchez, as first reported by NFL.com's Ian Rapaport, GM Ryan Pace and the organization are addressing the quantity aspect of the position, if not necessarily the quality. And that should not be dismissed.
 
Sanchez fits the template of a Brian Griese, Jason Campbell and even Josh McCown, veterans with less than auspicious resumes' but with more a David Fales or Caleb Hanie had brought to previous rosters. He gives the Bears a third quarterback under contract; expect another to be added before training camp, most likely through the draft next month.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]
 
It really does not matter that Sanchez, the No. 5 overall pick of the 2009 draft, could not beat out Trevor Siemian in Denver two years ago or Dak Prescott in Dallas last season (while Prescott was still an unknown backup to Tony Romo). The Bears before Thursday had just Mike Glennon and Connor Shaw under contract, and teams typically go into training camps with four passers, if for no other reason than to have arms to spread drill work around.
 
But Sanchez, whose career began with trips to the AFC Championship game his first two seasons in the NFL, represents the kind of backup that teams crave, irrespective of any journeyman status they might have. Sanchez is 30, whose teams have gone 37-35 in his starts, and has experienced winning, albeit less and less as his career has played out.
 
Not that the comparison is particularly notable, but Mark Sanchez or Matt Barkley? If Sanchez somehow surprises perhaps even himself and challenges Glennon, the Bears and Glennon are the better for it.