April 05, 2017

CLEVELAND (AP) John Groce is headed back to the MAC.

The former Illinois coach who took Ohio to two NCAA Tournaments and the Sweet 16 in 2012, was hired Wednesday by Akron, which has been looking to replace Keith Dambrot following his stunning departure last week for Duquesne.

Groce, who was dismissed after five seasons with the Fighting Illini, is a solid selection by Akron since he's already recruited substantially in Ohio - he was an assistant at Ohio Stater and Xavier - and he's familiar with the constraints of a mid-major program.

Akron will introduce Groce at a news conference on campus Thursday.

''From the enviable position of much sustained success in our men's basketball program, we concentrated our search on finding a Division I coach with a proven track record of excellence, winning, and postseason appearances, combined with a focus on academics and discipline,'' said athletic director Larry Williams.

''Coach Groce has that combination. We're extraordinarily pleased that he will be bringing his impressive experience and background to our Zips basketball program.''

Before taking the job at Illinois, Groce went 85-56 in four seasons at Ohio. In the 2012 NCAA tourney, the Bobcats upset Michigan before losing to North Carolina in the national quarterfinals.

Illinois fired Groce last month after five seasons. Although he finished with a 95-75 record, the Fighting Illini went just 39-53 in conference play and did not live up to higher expectations.

At Akron, Groce takes over a program that blossomed into the MAC's strongest under Dambrot, who became increasingly discouraged that the league could only get one NCAA bid. The MAC hasn't received an at-large bid since 1999.

The Zips made the NCAA field three times under Dambrot, but they lost in this year's MAC championship to Kent State and played in the NIT.

''Coach Groce has the commitment to excellence that has been instilled in our program, and I am confident that he will continue to build on that core and achieve even greater successes in the years ahead,'' said Akron President Matthew Wilson.

''He is passionate about winning the right way, and I know our student-athletes and UA fans and supporters will be excited to see his energy, enthusiasm, and coaching skill on our side of the court.''

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