CHAMPAIGN — Jon Ekey said there’s been quite a bit of excitement since he announced Tuesday that he’ll play his final season of college basketball for coach John Groce and the Illini.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” said Ekey, who will graduate from Illinois State on May 11 with a degree in business administration. “It’s nice to have this opportunity.”
The addition of Ekey gives Groce an experienced shooter to blend with a young team next season. He is a 6-foot-7, 220-pounder who sees himself as a perfect fit in Groce’s offensive system — a forward with 3-point shooting range who knows when to pull the trigger.
“I watched a few of Illinois’ games and some of the things (Tyler Griffey) did, that’s definitely my game,” Ekey said. “I can play the pick-and-pop game and if I’m not open I can help get other guys open.
“But my best offense is being the guy who is always ready to shoot.”
Ekey shot more than 40 percent from 3-point range two years ago when he was also a good fit in former ISU coach Tim Jankovich’s offensive system. But Ekey did not fit as nicely in the system employed this past season by new Redbirds’ coach Dan Muller and that got him thinking about finding another opportunity.
Ekey can take advantage of the NCAA’s one-time transfer exception that allows players to become eligible immediately if they graduate from one school, then enroll in a post-graduate program at another school.
Since Ekey played three seasons at Illinois State, he has just one more season of eligibility and figures to compete for a starting spot this fall with the Illini.
“I’m a little anxious to see what happens over there,” he said. “Hopefully, everyone won’t be thinking, ‘What’s this fifth-year guy doing?’
“But I’ll show up ready to work. I’ll earn respect and I’ll work my butt off trying to get the team better.”
Ekey said he was also contacted by Creighton, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Nevada. But he had a built-in comfort level with Groce, who recruited him to Ohio University, and Illini assistant Paris Parham, who was an assistant coach with the Redbirds.
“I just felt like I knew those guys,” Ekey said. “I love coach Groce’s enthusiasm. And I’ve always dreamed of playing in the Big Ten.”
Groce sounded like he expects Ekey to contribute instantly.
“He’s a skilled forward who will be a great fit in our system,” Groce said Wednesday. “He has a high basketball IQ, is an exceptional shooter and also defends, blocks shots and rebounds.
“Jon will make an immediate impact on our program by providing experience to a young roster.”
Illini on The Score: Proof that Illinois is serious about increasing its presence in the Chicago area came Wednesday with news that Illini basketball and football games, as well as weekly coaches’ shows, will be broadcast on The Score, radio station WSCR-AM (670).
Illinois has had a weak Chicago radio presence and has been overshadowed not only by Northwestern, but also by Northern Illinois and DePaul.
But this new deal calls for the all-sports station to carry Illini basketball starting in 2013-14 and Illini football in 2014. WIND-AM (560) will continue to broadcast Illini football this fall.