While most people point to the city of Chicago being the key to winning at the University of Illinois, the reality is the program is always at its best when the talent is coming from south of I-80.
In the 2017 class that is the case, and already the Illini are cleaning up, with a lot more potentially yet to come. In January the Illini landed talented wing Javon Pickett and now following a visit to see Illinois take on Minnesota, they have landed four-star combo guard DaMonte Williams.
Williams is a legacy recruit for the Illini. He is the son of former point guard Frank Williams, and hails from Peoria. Pickett is from Belleville, near the Missouri border, and both prospects seemingly have had Illinois as the leader for quite some time.
The two of them are a good start for Illinois and give the John Groce and his staff a big time start to what could be their defining class. With Pickett and Williams already in the fold, potentially the two biggest targets will be the focus for Groce going forward.
First off is the biggest target, literally and figuratively, Jeremiah Tilmon. Most behind the scenes have felt the Illini have been the leader for a little while, and the East St. Louis native has always spoken highly of Illinois. Along with Illinois, North Carolina, Iowa, UCLA, and many others are after Tilmon. However a strong bond with the coaching staff has Illinois in a good position with the five-star center.
Next on the list is four-star wing Jordan Goodwin. Goodwin is one of the toughest prospects in the country is also from Belleville, and is friends with both Tilmon and Pickett. While Goodwin doesn’t fit the role of a typical wing because he isn’t a long and lean athlete, he is super tough and just gets a ton done.
At the moment Illinois and Missouri are considered the main two to beat for Godwin’s services, though many feel the Illini have the advantage.
This is the first time since arriving on the job that Groce and his staff have had multiple high-major prospects to choose from that hail from “downstate” Illinois. It looks like they are taking advantage, and if they can get all of the four prospects that would be monumental for the program.
From there Illinois would have room for a fifth prospect, and they would likely look to add either a power forward or a true point guard.
It remains to be seen if Illinois can close the deal on Goodwin and Tilmon, and it definitely won’t be easy, but so far things are trending in the right direction. Groce and his staff have pointed to this class for a while, and so far they have two big commitments, now the question is can they close the deal.