By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) The signs around campus still read “University of Illinois,” but right now the place is going by a different name: Transfer Central.
And from my vantage point, that’s OK.
On Thursday, the Champaign News-Gazette’s Marcus Jackson reported that Illinois junior-to-be Myke Henry will be transferring, becoming the fourth member of the Illini’s 2011 recruiting class to leave the basketball program this offseason.
“He just decided that he wanted a fresh start somewhere else and decided he didn’t want to go back,” Phil Gipson, an assistant coach at Chicago Orr with whom Henry has a close relationship, told the News-Gazette. “Illinois, that’s a great coaching staff and he loved the coaching staff, but sometimes to get yourself going you need a new environment.
On Friday, Henry himself said to Chicago Hoops’ Cavan Walsh about his transfer, “First and foremost, I want to thank the University of Illinois and the coaches down there, including Coach [Bruce] Weber and Coach [Jerrance] Howard who recruited me to Illinois. I believe in Coach [John] Groce and his staff, but I decided to leave Illinois because I felt I needed a fresh start.
“I have nothing but positive things to say about everything down there. Some of my closest friends play there, and I’m still going to be cheering from afar.”
With his exodus from Champaign, Henry joins fellow reserves Mike Shaw, Devin Langford and Ibby Djimde, all of whom announced that they were leaving the Illini program five days after Illinois’ season ended on March 24 with an NCAA tournament loss to Miami.
The quartet of departures means that of Bruce Weber’s last recruiting class at Illinois, only returning starters Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu remain with the program. And while from afar so many players leaving Illinois at the same time might be startling to some college basketball observers, I don’t think it’s any cause for concern in this instance.
The mass transfers aren’t a sign of trouble for Groce’s program, nor do I see them as a negative reflection on the way the coaching staff operates. The players’ departures aren’t an example of “Creaning,” after all.
A derogatory term that’s popular in the lexicon of Big Ten message boards, “Creaning” emerged a few years ago when multiple players that Indiana coach Tom Crean had recruited to IU when the program was at its nadir began to leave Bloomington. The popular belief was that Crean was forcing those players out in favor of giving their scholarships to more talented ones. Hence, they had been “Creaned” out of Indiana.
Now, whether that’s the full truth about what happened at Indiana or not, I can’t say. But I do know that such things do indeed happen at major college basketball programs – including Illinois.
As a matter of fact, years ago, a source close to the Illinois program related to me a story about how a former Illinois head coach once called a player into his office at season’s end to talk about the player’s future. The coach explained that, “We have a lot of players coming in at your position in the coming years” before saying to the player, “I assume playing time is important to you.”
“Yes,” the player said.
To which the coach replied, “So, you want to transfer, right?”
The player did not and, according to my source, he was willing to do what it took to stay on the team. However, the coaching staff reportedly informed the player’s family that it wasn’t clear if the academic assistance that he had been receiving could continue. End result: The player transferred.
College sports can be a harsh business. That’s just a reality. But I’m still not in favor of harsh maneuvers such as that, whether you call it “Creaning” or something else. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case with these current Illini.
Groce inherited this roster, after all, so it’s no shock that some of the current players might not fit the system the new coach wants to run. The transferring players seem to understand that and are leaving Illinois on good terms with the coaching staff playing a key role in helping them find good fits elsewhere. Shaw is headed to Bradley University where Illinois assistant Dustin Ford’s brother, Geno, is head coach. Langford is bound for Division II powerhouse Kentucky Wesleyan. And Djimde is reportedly eyeing Longwood University in Virginia.
Henry’s next destination is undetermined, but as he said on Friday, he has “nothing but positive things to say about everything down there” at Illinois.
And that, I’d say, says a lot about Groce, who seems to not just be running a promising program in Champaign, but a classy one as well.