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College

Groce plays favorites

Ekey earning good reputation with coaches

When Illinois coach John Groce taught high school math, he would tell his class that he had favorites.

"I like the people more who do what they're supposed to do all the time," he said.

It sounds like Jon Ekey is becoming one of Groce's favorites on the team.

The transfer from Illinois State rapidly has become a player the Illini coaching staff can point to as an example of the proper way to do, well, just about everything.

"[Assistant coach Dustin Ford] takes pride at being negative at times," Groce said. "'I'm trying to ding him. There are possessions where you just can't ding him.' Hopefully some of the younger guys are learning from that."

Ekey, a 6-foot-7 forward, spent 4 years with the Redbirds, but is using his final season of eligibility with the Illini as a graduate student. He averaged 6.4 points per game last season and was a career 36.5-percent shooter on 3-pointers.

His experience will be instrumental in helping the Illini transition to a roster with five freshmen. The Illini open the season Friday at State Farm Center against Alabama State.

They expect to see a test from the Hornets, Groce said.

"They're very athletic," he said. "Very fast, quick. They play uptempo. They're very aggressive defensively. They're in passing lanes. They try to force turnovers and get out."

Ekey shot 5 of 7 for 12 points in the first exhibition game against McKendree and 1 of 5 for four points against Northwood.

"He's more than a shooter," Groce said. "He has learned two positions very quickly. Can shoot the ball. He passes it. He takes care of the ball. He's an exceedingly good athlete. He goes to the glass. He does what he's supposed to do."

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