Time is already running out if Illinois basketball coach John Groce hoped to talk center Meyers Leonard into one more year with the Illini.
CHAMPAIGN -- Time is already running out if Illinois basketball coach John Groce hoped to talk center Meyers Leonard into one more year with the Illini.
That's nearly an impossible task. With Leonard ranked generally in the middle of the first round by NBA draft analysts, it would be a tall job to convince the 7-foot-1 sophomore to turn down the guaranteed money and build a relationship with a coach who was hired last week.
Insiders strongly hinted Leonard was planning to leave school. Meanwhile, an NCAA rule implemented for this season reduced the timetable for players to make a decision, giving Groce little time to change Leonard's mind.
Before this season, college players had until May 8 to evaluate their NBA value. That allowed players to compete in workouts for NBA personnel staff, perhaps giving some underexposed players one last shot at impressing scouts.
But the NCAA set a deadline of April 10 for a decision by players. Not surprisingly, the deadline is one day before the spring signing period. College coaches lobbied for an earlier deadline so they know any roster changes in the spring, even though there's little chance to find a replacement this late for a high-level NBA draft prospect.
There's just one problem. The NBA set a deadline of April 29. Therefore, a player can still apply for the draft after the NCAA date. The issue is he has no chance of withdrawing his name and returning to school.
Critics say the rule has nothing to do with the players' welfare and everything to do with the coaches' wallets. With the NBA draft on June 28, it seems like a rush.
"It is a further impediment to the athlete and his ability to analyze his options,'' agent Bill Duffy recently told ESPN.com. "It is definitely self-serving for the institutions. I don't think it impacts prospects in the top 10, but mid-to-late first-rounders looking to position themselves higher in the draft are harmed significantly.''
Meanwhile, the family of Illini junior guard Brandon Paul already has a track record with Groce. When he was still the Ohio coach, Groce aggressively recruited Paul's younger brother Darius, an all-stater who eventually signed a letter of intent with Western Michigan. Ohio's distance from Chicago played a role in the decision.
Groce met with the Illini individually Thursday and Friday. After a weightlifting session Monday, the Illini were scheduled for team workouts beginning Tuesday.
According to a report, Chicago Simeon junior guard Kendrick Nunn planned to visit Illinois Thursday. Nunn made an unofficial visit to Ohio when Grove was the Bobcats coach.
FOOTBALL: Illinois coach Tim Beckman hoped running back Donovonn Young could return to practice by the spring game on April 14. A sophomore this fall and the leading candidate to start, Young is nursing a foot injury that kept him out of the practice thus far.
Meanwhile, safety Supo Sanni has been sidelined by an Achilles tendon injury on his left ankle. Sanni missed one season after rupturing the Achilles on his right ankle in 2010.
Those injuries highlight the lack of depth, Beckman said. The Illini face an acute lack of depth at running back, receiver and safety. Quarterback Miles Osei may provide depth at running back and receiver.
BASEBALL: The Illini partnered with a university's journalism course to create Virtual Dugout, the first mobile application ever produced by the college, the school said. The application was recently approved for download in the Apple App Store and the Android Market. It is available for download for iOS and for Android.
Virtual Dugout will offer features and videos triggered by scanning a player’s baseball card or image from the game program or online. Fans will have access to live statistics and updated season and career statistics.
The Illini (15-10) host Bradley on Tuesday in the second meeting between the two teams. Illinois won the first game 6-3 last week in Peoria. The Illini host Indiana in a three-game series beginning Friday and concluding Sunday.
IN OTHER NEWS: Illini men's golf finished third at the Augusta State Invitational, just down the road from Augusta National Golf Club, the site of the Masters. Illinois ended up eight shots back of No. 1 Texas and Augusta State. The Longhorns won the two-hole playoff. Illini sophomore Thomas Pieters earned his sixth top 10 of the season by placing sixth. ... Junior Pepper Gay threw 9.1 innings but lost 1-0 at Iowa Sunday in softball. The Illini are 16-14 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten after getting swept in the three-game series against the Hawkeyes. The Illini host Illinois State on Wednesday.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.