Former Ohio coach has always been around the game, but he was born to coach.

A guy can get only enough basketball. Well, that's everybody but John Groce.

Decades before he was hired Thursday as the Illinois basketball coach, Groce rode with his father on a drive to Kentucky. The grade schooler talked about stats of basketball players. Real number crunching. Shooting percentages. Just a statistical overload. For 2 hours from their home just west of Indianapolis to Louisville, Larry Groce listened before reaching a breaking point.

"We finally got to Louisville, and I said, 'John, we're going to talk about anything except basketball,' '' said Larry Groce. "I'm not kidding you, it got quiet for the next hour. He couldn't talk. It's been his whole life.''

John Groce, 40, grew up with a basketball in his hands. Like lots of Indiana kids, he had a hoop in the backyard. There was an IU logo painted on that first backboard, and he was a Hoosiers fan, like most everyone else in Danville, Ind. He came by it honestly, considering his grandmother, Eileen Wise, trained him on the Hoosiers while sometimes listening to a transistor radio.

"You can blame that on her,'' Groce said. "I didn't have any choice.''

It's not that Groce couldn't play the game, but he was born to coach. A series of decisions and a group of strong mentors boosted a career path that eventually led him to Illinois.

Groce was a three-year starter at Danville High School and the prized pupil of his coach, Todd Lickliter, who later coached Butler and Iowa.

"He had self-made skills, but they were high end,'' Lickliter said. "He just made all his open shots. Without his work ethic, drive and intellect, he might have been average at best.''

The fork in the road came just after high school graduation. Groce declined an appointment to West Point to play at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., said his father.

"I've questioned decisions he's made,'' his father said. "It always proven to be the ones he's made are better than the ones I would have made.''

Groce, the aspiring coach, landed at a school with an enrollment of 1,900 in rural central Indiana. Smart move. He hooked up with Paul Patterson, the NAIA Hall of Fame coach who leads the state of Indiana with 713 wins in college play.

"Other than my parents, he impacted me as much as any male in my life,'' Groce said.

Taylor was 86-18 with three trips to the NAIA Tournament and a berth in the Final Four during Groce's first three years. Before his senior season, playing time and nagging back pain led him to trade his uniform for an early jump into coaching. He served as Patterson's JV coach.

"As a JV coach, he was too demanding for those kids,'' Patterson said. "Sometimes you try to weed out the guys who aren't that interested anyway. He did a great job at that.''

From Groce's first days on the small-school campus, Patterson said, he wanted to be a coach. From there, it was a blur. After graduating from Taylor in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in math, Groce took a job as teacher and coach at Jay County High School, 30 miles down the road in Portland.

During the next two years, Groce worked with four teams -- coaching freshman basketball and serving as a varsity assistant at Jay County while also leading the Taylor JV and scouting for the varsity.

"I had the time of my life,'' Groce said. "I enjoyed coaching and working with kids at all different levels.''

Patterson was just happy Groce didn't ask for mileage. There was no worry about Groce running out of gas, like when he was up before school back in Danville, working on his game and conditioning for an hour or two before school.

"That's just not normal,'' said his father, shaking his head.

Or when Lickliter made sure he didn't set the bar too high, because Groce was already pushing himself past the limit.

"You worried that he was going to fatigue himself or have diminishing returns because of exhaustion,'' Lickliter said.

Groce cut down from five cups of coffee a day with a few Mountain Dew chasers because he had to go to the doctor because of an eye twitch.

"John defined intensity,'' Ohio State coach Thad Matta told the New York Times. "He had an ability to go 100 miles an hour all the time. He can walk out in the rain and doesn't need an umbrella.''

Groce's big break came one day when Matta called Lickliter looking for someone to work a summer camp. Through that connection, Groce later accepted a job as a low-level assistant at North Carolina State for coach Herb Sendek. Matta, who hired Groce as an assistant at Butler and took him to Xavier and Ohio State, is a member of what Groce calls his Advisory Board. Groce learned from those coaches who worked under and served with.

Practice planning from Patterson. Teaching and skill development from Lickliter. Connections and building relationships from Sendek. A "smorgasboard of basketball'' from Sean Miller, the Arizona coach and a former fellow assistant at Xavier. Staying humble, like Butler coach Brad Stevens.

"I don't know if I worked with or worked for someone who didn't add value to my career or family in some way,'' Groce said. "I'm a lucky man.''

Groce coaches a game that mirrors his personality. 

"I'm an aggressive, attacking, energy guy,'' said Groce, who compiled an 85-56 record in four years at Ohio while guiding the Bobcats to the Sweet 16 this season and a win in the NCAA Tournament in 2010. 

He first made a name for himself by leading Ohio State in signing Greg Oden, Michael Conley and Daequan Cook, three stars from the class of 2006 who were NBA first-rounders a year later after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game. That recruiting class put Ohio State into another level.

The following year, Groce played a role in securing Evan Turner, the former Westchester St. Joseph guard who turned down the Illini. While not the lead recruiter, he was one of the first evaluators to determine Turner could play point guard in college, said Mike Mullins, Turner's AAU coach.

"Not every coach who recruited Evan saw that,'' Mullins said.

Turner would eventually call Groce the Buckeyes' offensive coordinator. Groce left to take over Ohio for the 2008-09 season, his first as a head coach.

Groce hasn't followed that bouncing basketball alone. During that stop at NC State, he met a Wolfpack intern. He later married Allison. They have two boys. Conner is 6. Camden will turn 3 this spring. Allison wore an orange dress to the introductory press conference at Assembly Hall Thursday.

Like her husband, Allison is a Hoosier who likes basketball. The Indiana graduate never missed a Hoosiers game during her college days. Hopefully, she can talk a little basketball. That's what is usually on her husband's mind.

John Supinie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.

  Getting to know John Groce Born: Sept. 7, 1971, in Muncie, Ind. Hometown: Danville, Ind. Family: Wife, Allison; sons, Conner and Camden. Education: Taylor University, B.S., Mathematics, 1994. The numbers at Taylor: Graduated with a 3.9 GPA. Did you know?: Finished second nationally in Elks Hoop Shoot in 12-13 age division in 1985. Year-By-Year Coaching Record Year School Position Overall/Conf. (Finish) Postseason 2011-12 Ohio 29-8/11-5 (3rd) NCAA Sweet 16 2010-11 Ohio 19-16/9-7 (5th) CIT Quarterfinal 2009-10 Ohio 22-15/7-9 (9th) NCAA 2nd Round 2008-09 Ohio 15-17/7-9 (9th)