September 27, 2006

Ohio State's Groce attracting talent to Columbus

To understand what makes Ohio State assistant coach John Groce Rivals.com's 2006 Recruiter of the Year you need only to listen to the story of how he won over Daequan Cook's assistant coach.

Cook, an explosive five-star shooting guard, was the first of the five prospects to commit to the Buckeyes in what turned out to be the nation's No. 2-ranked recruiting class.

Albert Powell, an assistant at Dayton (Ohio) Dunbar, originally wanted his star player to play for a black head coach in college - or at least somewhere that a black coach was on the staff. Powell is black and so is Peter Pullen, the head coach at Dunbar High.

"Call it reverse prejudice, but Daequan grew up his whole life around African-Americans," Powell said. "He'd never been outside that realm. I thought he wouldn't be able to relate to the coaches unless there was someone there that looked like him."

It took one meeting with the 34-year-old Groce, who was then working at Xavier under Thad Matta, to reverse Powell's frame of mind. Groce and Matta are both white.

"I got a good feeling about Coach Groce from Day One," Powell said. "He introduced me to his wife and he came off as a really caring person and someone that could relate to the issues and problems of inner-city kids. That surprised me."

After a couple more talks with Groce and Matta, Powell started to believe Xavier might be the best place for Cook, who hadn't even begun his junior year at the time.

But that summer, Matta left to take over Ohio State's program. The Buckeyes were on probation for violations which occurred under the previous coaching staff. The penalties included a postseason ban for the upcoming season a punishment that often makes recruiting extremely difficult. Still, Groce followed his mentor to Columbus.

The coaching duo engineered a surprising 20-12 record, highlighted by an upset of then-undefeated and No. 1-ranked Illinois at the end of the regular season. Twelve days after their final game, Cook - who had already received a scholarship offer from North Carolina - committed to the Buckeyes.

Just the beginning?
John Groce and the Ohio State staff have already secured commitments from six highly-rated prospects in the 2007 and 2008 classes.
2007 commits
Jon Diebler SG 6-6, 182
Kosta Koufos C 7-0, 252
Dallas Lauderdale C 6-8, 230
Evan Turner SF 6-6, 175
2008 commits
B.J. Mullens C 7-0, 260
Walter Offutt SG 6-3, 180
The move ignited what would become perhaps the greatest collection of talent in school history. Center Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall recruit in the country, and five-star point guard Mike Conley a high school teammate of Oden in Indianapolis - started seriously considering the Buckeyes. Oden and Conley have been good friends with Cook since eighth grade, and the trio played together on an AAU team coached by Conley's father.

Four-star shooting guard David Lighty from Cleveland committed five weeks after Cook. Oden and Conley followed suit two months later. Junior college transfer Othello Hunter rounded out the class in September.

Powell is convinced the entire group would be at Xavier if Groce and Matta were still at the Atlantic 10 school.

"If he and Thad had stayed at Xavier, I think all those kids would have gone to Xavier," Powell said. "He and Thad just have a special type of chemistry."

Michael Conley Sr., whose first meeting with Groce also came when Groce was at Xavier, deals with dozens of coaches pursuing his players every season. Conley says Groce's approach is unique - and far more sincere than just about anyone else.

"There are a lot of smooth talkers and guys that can sell real well," Conley said. "But Groce doesn't come across as a salesman. He has a certain way about him that comes off as a very honest individual and that was very important to me."

A lot of coaches don't have Groce's communication skills. While Matta and each of his assistants work as a group, it was Groce who was able to make connections with seemingly everyone involved in the recruiting process - regardless of their age.

"He played a huge role," the elder Conley said. "Assistants like him are out there watching the players more than the head coach. He found a way to relate to 17- and 18-year-old kids, 40-plus-year-old parents and the high school and AAU coaches.

"Also, as persistent as he was in following up on everything from sending letters to calling at the right time and being everywhere, you never felt he was being pushy. I don't know how he did it. Other coaches felt they had to use pressure tactics. It takes a special individual to do all that."

Rivals.com Class of 2006 Top 25 recruiters
Recruiter of the Year: John Groce, Ohio State

The Buckeyes reeled in one of the best classes in school history in large part because of Groce.

He was a fixture on the road, tracking Greg Oden, Daequan Cook, Mike Conley, David Lighty and Othello Hunter on the way to the nation's No. 2 recruiting class.
Gib Arnold, USC
With strong recruiting ties in the Southern California region, Arnold is in his second year at USC. He was instrumental in securing the deep Trojan class and the potential landing of five-star prospect Davon Jefferson.
Kevin Broadus, Georgetown
As one of the rising stars in the recruiting world, the D.C. native made a splash in the Virginia and Maryland area. Brodaus was a major player in the Hoyas landing DaJuan Summers and Vernon Macklin.
Chris Collins, Duke
Going back to his old high school in Illinois, Collins targeted Chicago guard Jon Scheyer early and landed the player that broke his school records. Collins also played a large role in the long recruiting race for Lance Thomas.
Cameron Dollar, Washington
After starring in the Pac Ten as a player at UCLA, Dollar is now a star in the Pac-10 as Washington's "go-to recruiter." He is responsible for landing the majority of the recruits in Washington's top 10 recruiting class.
Joe Dooley, Kansas
Recruiting is certainly a team effort at Kansas, but the man at the forefront assisting coach Bill Self is Joe Dooley. Ever present on the recruiting trail, Dooley earns a top 25 recruiter honor for the second consecutive year.
Dino Gaudio, Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons will rely heavily on in-state prospects Jamie Skeen, a combo forward, and Ishmael Smith, a jet quick point guard. Gaudio was the primary recruiter for both.
Derek Kellogg, Memphis
The Memphis backcourt is set with homegrown talent Willie Kemp and shooter Doneal Mack. Kellogg was instrumental in landing the 1-2 punch of the future.
Brett Gunning, Villanova
A Philadelphia native, Gunning knows a little something about the players from his back yard. That is why he targeted Reggie Redding, who could be one of the nice surprises in the Big East this season. Gunning also played a part in winning the Scottie Reynolds sweepstakes.
Steve Robinson, North Carolina
It looked like Ohio State was a lock for the No. 1 spot in the 2006 team recruiting rankings, but then came UNC. Largely due to the efforts of Robinson, the Tar Heels landed three five-star players to go along with a couple four-stars and a three-star.
Reggie Hanson, Kentucky
As the lead recruiter at his alma mater, Hanson landed three four-star prospects in Jodie Meeks, Derrick Jasper and Perry Stevenson. Hanson is in his sixth year as an assistant at Kentucky.
Mike Hopkins, Syracuse
In his 10th year at his alma mater, Hopkins has successfully brought top talent into the Orange program. He is responsible for bringing in Paul Harris, the jewel of the 2006 class.
Donnie Jones, Florida
The rich get richer in Gainesville, Fla. As associate head coach for the Gators and in his 13th season with Billy Donovan, Jones continues to bring in top talent.
Tony Jones, Tennessee
As Bruce Pearl's right-hand man for six years, Jones helped bring in a top 10 recruiting class during Pearl's first year in charge of the Volunteers' program. Jones used his Detroit roots to land Ramar Smith, the top recruit in UT's outstanding class.
Andre LaFleur, UConn
Few coaches outside the SEC can dip into Alabama for a player. LaFleur did, and he helped the Huskies land five-star forward Stanley Robinson. New Yorker Curtis Kelly was also recruited by LaFleur.
Steve Masiello, Louisville
With deep roots in the New York and Northeastern basketball community, Masiello went right to work in his first year under Rick Pitino. Masiello helped land Edgar Sosa, the top point guard in the Big Apple, and Derrick Caracter - who hails from New Jersey.
Mark Morefield, Baylor
As the recruiting coordinator for coach Scott Drew, Morefield has helped raise the Bears' program from the ashes with his recruiting efforts. The 2006 class includes three four-star prospects.
Rob Moxley, Maryland
In his one year in College Park, Moxley left his mark. He was instrumental in landing Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne, and Jerome Burney, Jr.. Moxley is now the associate head coach at Charlotte.
Josh Pastner, Arizona
In his fifth season on the Arizona coaching staff, Pastner has taken over the leadership in recruiting for the Wildcat program. He landed Chase Budinger, the prize recruit of Arizona's 2006 class.
Eric Reveno, Stanford
Before taking the head coaching position at Portland, Reveno helped the Cardinal sign five-star twins Brook and Robin Lopez, who should start immediately.
Russell Springmann, Texas
In his sixth year on the Longhorns staff, Springmann is responsible for three of the top prospects Kevin Durant, Damion James and D.J. Augustin in the third-ranked recruiting class in the country.
Dwayne Stephens, Michigan State
Two thirds of the Spartans recruiting class can be traced back to Stephens. He played a big role in landing center Tom Herzog and wing Isaiah Dahlman.
Oronde Taliaferro, Arkansas
After coaching Taliaferro at Wayne State, Stan Heath has leaned on Taliaferro as his lead recruiter. In 2006 Taliaferro brought three four-star prospects into the Razorbacks' fold.
Buzz Williams, Texas A&M
Before departing College Station for the head coaching position at New Orleans, Williams helped bring in perhaps the greatest recruiting class in Texas A&M history.
Charlton Young, Georgia Tech
A relatively new face on the Yellow Jackets staff, Young played a big part in landing the team's most important recruit, Thaddeus Young. He also tapped into his Miami roots for forward Zach Peacock.

-- Top 25 Recruiters profiles by Rivals.com National Recruiting Analysts Jerry Meyer and Justin Young.




 

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