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.

Monday on CSN, CSNChicago.com: Bulls introduce Denzel Valentine

Monday on CSN, CSNChicago.com: Bulls introduce Denzel Valentine

The Bulls will introduce first round draft pick Denzel Valentine on Monday at the Advocate Center, and CSN has you covered all the way.

Tune in to CSN Chicago or catch a live stream on CSNChicago.com at 11 a.m. as GM Gar Forman and head coach Fred Hoiberg introduce Valentine, the Michigan State senior whom the Bulls selected 14th overall in last week's NBA Draft.

Valentine, last year's AP Player of the Year, became the first player in NCAA history to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a single season. The shooting guard's versatility and ability to shoot from the perimeter will make him a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg's system, and his passing will help in the wake of the Bulls dealing Derrick Rose to the Knicks.

Check out our coverage of Valentine and the rest of the Bulls draft:

Bulls 'absolutely thrilled' to land Denzel Valentine

Gar Forman shoots down Jimmy Butler trade talk

How the NBA cap spike will affect the Bulls

Bulls get 'a well-rounded player' in Paul Zipser

How the Bulls' Central Division foes fared in the 2016 NBA Draft

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

CSN's JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos discuss the struggles of James Shields while also going over a difficult upcoming series for the White Sox in this week's Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

On the back of Chris Sale and his 13th win, the White Sox are back to .500 after taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays.

The South Siders have now won five of their last seven games, and won back-to-back series for the first time in nearly two months. They're now 2.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot and are playing much better baseball as they head toward the All-Star break.

Hear what JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos had to say about their big week, as well as their upcoming three-game series against the Twins, in this week's Honda Road Ahead video above.

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

The White Sox have been adamant the baseball they’ve played the past six weeks isn’t far removed from their torrid start to the season.

Now they have something to show for it.

Courtesy of a 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox have back-to-back series victories for the first time since they swept the Texas Rangers and Toronto two months ago. With five wins in their last seven tries, the White Sox improved to 38-38 as they head into a much-needed day off.

“It’s huge,” said outfielder J.B. Shuck, whose second homer in as many days provided an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. “You feel kind of a weight lifted off the shoulders in the clubhouse. We’ve been grinding. Even some of our losses, we’ve been in games. We’ve come back, we’ve given ourselves a chance and one thing here or there kind of led us to losing and now it’s starting to work for us a little bit.”

A week ago the White Sox were coming off yet another demoralizing road sweep against an AL Central opponent. They had played well in two of three contests against the Cleveland Indians but came up empty. That sweep followed one at the Detroit Tigers earlier in the month and another previous one during a hellish May weekend in Kansas City.

But starting with an extra-innings win at the Boston Red Sox on Monday night, the White Sox have started to put things together more consistently than they had of late.

They capitalized on good pitching in the first two victories over the Red Sox and then the offense did the heavy lifting in an 8-6 win on Wednesday. Though they didn’t close out a sweep of Boston, the White Sox carried it over to their home series against Toronto.

“We need some of those,” said closer David Robertson, who retired the side on 10 pitches in the ninth to convert his 20th save. “When you get your butt kicked and you get swept in places, you gotta come home and win some games. We’re playing a lot better baseball. We’re pitching better. Hopefully it continues and we stay strong.”

Sunday’s victory was full of quality play in all aspects for the White Sox.

-- Chris Sale was dominant for seven of eight innings and earned his 13th victory in 15 decisions.

-- Robertson’s inning aside, Sale gave the bullpen another critical day of rest.

“It’s kind of relaxing,” reliever Zach Duke said.

-- Beginning with Adam Eaton’s major-league leading 10th outfield assist in the first inning, the defense turned in several big plays behind Sale, including double plays in the fourth and seventh.

-- The offense provided several timely hits, whether Melky Cabrera’s two-out RBI single in the third or Shuck’s solo homer to increase the lead back to three runs in the eighth.

Now the White Sox have a day to rest before they continue their homestand on Tuesday with the first of three against the Minnesota Twins.

“I like the way we're playing,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think offensively, we're swinging it a little bit, doing some things, and playing defense along with it. That's a good sign for us to be able to continue to do that. Pitchers are getting back to being healthy and getting after it. I like the way this is headed. I like the fire that these guys have shown and bouncing back in some tough situations.”