Earlier today, John Groce sent a very serious message when it was reported that he has imposed a year long suspension on Western Michigan transfer Darius Paul.
“After a thorough review of Darius’ year, which included multiple transgressions, I am suspending Darius from all team-related activities for the entire 2014-15 season,” Groce said in a statement. “As head coach, my concerns are always what is best for the University of Illinois, what is best for the men’s basketball program, and what is best for our student-athletes as people. I feel this penalty is necessary to help Darius as a person. We will continue to support him through this process.”
Clearly, this goes beyond basketball. Groce is essentially saying that Paul has some major work to do as a person, not as a player, and he feels strongly enough about it that he is taking basketball completely out of the equation for Paul. That’s a tough decision for any coach to have to make, and it sends a very strong message to the rest of the roster.
Repeatedly choosing to make the wrong decisions has consequences, and when the transgressions reach critical mass those consequences can be very severe.
It’s undoubtedly a blow for the program from a roster standpoint because it was very clear following last season that stronger post depth was a need heading in to next season. The message here is doubly strong because it shows that no player, regardless of how needed that player is from a depth standpoint, is above the the type of culture Groce is trying to establish at Illinois. It’s a culture predicated on making the right choice at every turn, not just when it’s convenient.
As Jackson mentions, Paul will not be on scholarship during the upcoming season, and that opens the door for Groce to look in a different direction to fill that roster void if he so chooses.