ORLANDO, Fla. – John Groce's gear still says Ohio on it.
It's just that the word "State" is missing from behind it.
Groce, who spent the past four years at Ohio State as an assistant and then associate head coach to Thad Matta, struck out on his own this offseason, accepting the job at Ohio. It's his first head-coaching job after 12 seasons as a Division I assistant, the past eight under Matta.
Here watching the 17U AAU National Tournament, he said it has been a whirlwind since he was introduced as the 16th coach in Bobcats history on June 27.
"I haven't spent a lot of time in Athens (site of Ohio U) at this point," Groce said. "At the beginning I tried to really get to know our players. We've spent a lot of time doing that and I think we've accomplished that. Then during course of the last two 10-day cycles we've focused on recruiting (coaches have been allowed out during most of July). But we're trying not to lose the mindset that the most important thing we can do is develop relationships with the guys that are on the team. Those are the guys who are gonna be lacing it up for us."
Groce, 36, is a top-notch recruiter. In 2006 he was named Rivals.com's recruiter of the year for his part in the haul that landed the Buckeyes Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, all three of whom were first-round picks after their freshman seasons. Realistically he isn't going to lure that kind of talent to play for the Bobcats, but it's fair to believe he'll raise the bar in recruiting in the Mid-American Conference.
"I've been fortunate because it's a job that I was able to get in an area of the country where I feel very comfortable and have some relationships and some networking," Groce said. "And I have a staff that's terrific and they also provide that same thing.
"In terms of knowing players (around the Midwest) — I hate to even say levels. The one thing I talk a lot about with kids is fit, not levels. Is it a place where they see themselves being happy and successful? I try not to get into low major, mid-major, high-major levels. The main thing for us is to try to find guys who fit our program and what we're trying to do."
Groce inherits a program that is on solid ground. The Bobcats won 19 regular-season games last season and made the inaugural College Basketball Invitational, and they were in the NCAA tournament in 2005. Tim O'Shea had two years remaining on his contract, but he bolted for Bryant College in Rhode Island to be closer to his family. He also got a guaranteed eight-year contract, a rare security blanket in the coaching profession.
Ohio loses two seniors, including leading scorer and All-MAC forward Leon Williams. But Groce has rising senior forward Jerome Tillman (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg) around whom to build, as well as two other returning starters and a host of bench contributors.
"I don't want to develop any preconceived notions about our players because I don't really know how fair that is to them," Groce said. "I really want to start with a clean slate with all of them. I have an awareness of some of them because I saw them on the recruiting trail over the years and have seen them on television some but haven't had a chance to really watch film and analyze and break down and figure out what guys can and can't do. I think that's gonna take some time."
Expect Groce and the Bobcats to have things mostly figured out come November.
Who was the last Ohio U player to be named All-American?
(Answer at the end of the column.)
"It's great. I haven't been there long, just a cup of water, but the city has been very receptive," Antigua said. "The staff is great, and it's a great opportunity to work with Coach Cal (Tigers coach John Calipari). It has been phenomenal so far."
Antigua had spent the past five years on Jamie Dixon's staff with the Panthers. He's a respected recruiter who is part of a staff makeover for Calipari, who saw Derek Kellogg take the head job at UMass and Chuck Martin land the top spot at Marist. Also joining the Tigers staff is Josh Pastner, who spent the past seven season at Arizona.
"I'm interested in finding out what the biggest difference is," Antigua said. "I'm looking forward to figuring out the new system and learning. It's gonna be exciting.
"We haven't even started touching any tape. I got in and started focusing on recruiting and hit the road."
Antigua already is familiar with many of the nation's top prospects, so that helps.
"The difference is we have some different needs and that warrants looking at some different kids," Antigua said.
• UAB coach Mike Davis kept a close eye on DeMarcus Cousins during the 17U national tournament. Rumors continue to circulate that the Rivals five-star prospect may be looking elsewhere despite his commitment to the Blazers. Both Cousins and his high school coach Otis Hughley say he remains staunchly in the UAB camp.
• Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt spent part of Monday chatting together as each watched 2009 commitments play for the Georgia Stars. Pearl was watching 6-9 four-star forward Kenny Hall, and Hewitt took in the play of four-star shooting guard Glen Rice Jr. and three-star forward Kammeron Holsey. All three are members of the Rivals150.