We have reached the point of the year where sports action in the collegiate ranks takes a bit of a break. That is certainly not the case with the Fighting Illini men's basketball team, who have begun individual workouts. The two newcomers to the team, LeRon Black and Michael Finke, are both on campus and enrolled in classes, and the remainder of the team that returns from last year are beginning their workouts as well. With that being said, Coach John Groce put his team through the Navy SEAL training for the second consecutive year. Last year, with nine newcomers to the team, Groce thought it would be a great team building exercise for everyone to gel and get to know one another. It seemed to work out just fine last season, so Groce put his team through the four day program once again this week. With Black and Finke the only additions to the team, the nucleus is there, and for Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby, two players who sat out last season due to transfer guidelines, the training was a little easier, but that doesn't mean that it was any less challenging.
Starks, who is looking forward to getting back into the swing of basketball after sitting out last season, thought the training was very helpful. "It gives up experience in team building, which is very helpful both on and off the court", Starks said. The players are put through several rigorous activities, which they are expected to use teamwork to navigate certain situations.
One such drill involved a boat (pictured above) that was filled with ice and water. The players would take turns, one by one, by diving underneath each partition in the boat, then coming out at the end. The purpose of the drill was to get fear out of the players' minds of jumping into a very cold environment. The coaches, who numbered 8 bodies, challenged the players, who were 13 strong, to see who could do it the fastest. When both groups completed the challenge earlier in the week, the players did it in 5 minutes. The final morning of the challenge, they did it in under 2 minutes, which was astounding. "The players calmed their fears, and completed the challenge in a much quicker time, because they were able to attack the fear of the water", Groce said of his players' improvement. The coaches also took another attempt at bettering their time, and Groce's only request before they took their turn was "more ice".
SEAL trainer John McGuire, who spent ten years himself as a Navy SEAL, goes all over the country with this program. McGuire stresses the principle of getting people to become leaders, not only on the basketball court, but in the game of life itself. "I want these players to realize that when they are 30 years old, or 40 years old, and they have a family and a problem comes up, they will know how to handle it by using these principles.
Groce, who has had their team take this training for the last couple of years, thought they really improved from the start of the training until the end. "There's no question that they got better from when they started, and John (McGuire) really has been instrumental in getting guys like Tracy (Abrams) and especially Starks out of their shell and becoming more vocal leaders", Groce said of the influence that McGuire has had on his players.
Abrams, who has been a floor leader for the Illini the past couple of seasons, never has been the vocal leader for the team, but training like this can go a long way in changing that. "I thought the training last season was a little bit harder that this year's, because we weren't as connected as we were this time around. John (McGuire) makes you talk out here, and that not only character, but camaraderie as well", Abrams said of his experience with the training.
It's no secret that the Illini have had adversity on and off the court this past off season, but they have had their fair share of success as well. Groce is a very integral part of that process, and his treatment of the Darius Paul situation further brings that point home. Paul was dismissed from the team last spring after an altercation with Champaign police. Paul, the younger brother of former Illini Brandon Paul, will be attending a junior college to keep up his basketball skills, and still remains hopeful that he will rejoin the Illini next season.