Illinois gets key piece to puzzle

The Illinois coaching staff has to hope that Kendrick Nunn can be the start of big things for their program on the recruiting trail.

Some commitments are worth more than just one player. For Illinois that is exactly the case with Kendrick Nunn. The new Illini coaching staff, led by John Groce, from day one focused on getting into the talent rich state of Illinois, and specifically Chicago. The player that was the main focus was Nunn, and now he is in the fold.

A talent upgrade was needed in Champaign. The Illini missed the NCAA Tournament in 2012, and without a major recruiting class coming in, it was clear that 2013 was going to be very important for their future. Upon getting the job, Groce and company knew they had to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail, and that meant landing Nunn.

At Ohio University, Groce got involved with Nunn very early on and had a relationship with the Meanstreets AAU program through his recruitment of D.J. Cooper. With that the groundwork was set for him to be a serious player for Nunn.

With Nunn playing at powerhouse Simeon High School, the importance of him was even bigger. Getting into Chicago has been a challenge for the Illini recently, and especially being a factor at the two major talent producing public schools, Simeon and Whitney Young.

All of those factors led to Nunn being very important for Groce, but he also knew it wouldn't be easy. Marquette had done a ton of early work and landed a Simeon star, Steve Taylor, the year previous, and also schools such as UCLA, Memphis, and Ohio State had all been involved to varying degrees.

Still Groce, with the help of assistants Jamal Walker and Paris Parham forged ahead in the recruitment and kept plugging away. At first it seemed like Marquette might be tough to beat, but as time went on the Illini began to emerge.

On his in-home visit, Groce stressed the importance of being an Illinois kid who stays home and what that would mean for him both short term and long term. Both Nunn and his father really began to see that as a huge positive.

That line of thinking continued on the visit, and ultimately that led to a commitment. Now Groce has to hope that Nunn can be somewhat of a pied piper for other in-state recruits.

Getting the first recruit to come is always the toughest. While Illinois landed an Ohio kid in Maverick Morgan earlier in the recruiting cycle, getting Nunn is different. He is a top 50 caliber player, and someone who is associated with USA Basketball as well as being somewhat of a local legend due to winning three state titles in a row at Simeon High School.

Now Groce can point to Nunn as a Chicago kid who believed in what he was doing and what was going to be accomplished in Champaign. Now will that lead to a guy like Jabari Parker or Jahlil Okafor, probably not, but it is a step in the right direction, and it proves that Illinois will be a factor going forward with high level.

Sometimes a commitment is worth more than just one player, and this might be one of those cases as Groce tries to bring Illinois to the level that so many have felt it could be for years.

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