College basketball: OU grabs energetic Groce
OSU assistant will be announced as men's basketball coach today
June 27, 2008 3:14 AM
The Columbus Dispatch
NEAL C. LAURON dispatch
John Groce, lifting his son Conner, 2, helped elevate Ohio State as the top assistant to coach Thad Matta.
Those who have seen John Groce push himself to the limit on a daily basis say Ohio University
has hired a passionate, smart and tireless coach for its men's basketball team.
Groce, the top assistant under Thad Matta for four years at Ohio State, three years at Xavier
and one at Butler, will be announced as Bobcats coach today.
It took first-year Ohio athletic director Jim Schaus one week to find a replacement for Tim
O'Shea, who left to become coach at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I.
It is believed Schaus interviewed four others: Ohio assistant John Rhodes, Michigan State
assistant Mark Montgomery, Robert Morris coach Mike Rice and former Tennessee and Coastal Carolina
coach Buzz Peterson.
Former Ohio State forward J.J. Sullinger said Schaus made the right choice.
"I don't know that much about Ohio University basketball, but now I'm going to be really
interested in that team," Sullinger said. "Ohio University will be on the up. They made a good
decision. Coach Groce knows his X's and O's, but he also can turn boys into men and turn good
players into outstanding players. I can't say enough about him."
Groce (pronounced GROSS) helped get the Buckeyes to the NCAA championship game in 2007, a loss
to Florida. Sullinger said his finest job might have come in 2004-05, when the team was banned from
postseason play because of violations under previous coach Jim O'Brien.
"Coach Groce and coach Matta turned things around so quickly and we wound up winning 20 games,"
Sullinger said. "We had no tournament to play for, but we played hard and we played well. Coach
Groce had a lot to do with that. He will get the most out of his players at Ohio University. Those
players will be put in the right situation to win."
Earlier this week, Schaus said it was preferable that the new man had ties to Ohio or the
Midwest. Groce fills the bill on both counts. He was born in Muncie, Ind., and was a star player at
Taylor University in Upland, Ind.
Taylor coach Paul Patterson said Groce, 36, was a tireless worker as a player and graduate
assistant. The team won 86 games in the three years Groce played. It reached the NAIA Final Four in
1991 when he was a sophomore.
"At one point, John was teaching math at a local high school and coaching three basketball
teams," said Patterson, a member of the NAIA hall of fame. "John would coach the freshman high
school team in the morning, help with the junior varsity after school and then drive 18 miles to
campus and help coach our junior varsity. John was simply amazing. Now, there's a guy who wants to
coach. The good ones are all like this. John stays after it. His engine is always running."
Patterson said he worried about Groce during preseason conditioning drills.
"We had to actually slow him down," he said. "He worked at his limit nearly every day. His
energy level and enthusiasm are remarkable. He's a bright guy. He was an 'A' student here. He knows
computers. He could have done a lot of things, but he wanted to coach basketball."
The turning point in Groce's career, Patterson said, might have come when he worked the
Five-Star Basketball Camp in Pittsburgh as a young assistant coach.
"John was a volunteer, but one day a guy got sick and John filled in at his station," Patterson
said. "Along came Howard Garfinkle, the camp director. He saw how John was running the station, and
word quickly got out about the job he did. Howard Garfinkle saw all that energy. It was just John
Dispatch reporter Bob Baptist contributed to this story.