Point guards Dee Brown and Deron Williams chose to play together at Illinois, and they were rewarded with an appearance in the National Championship game. Might Illini coaches wish to repeat history by recruiting two more points in the same class?
The two players currently ranked the top floor general targets for the Illini in 2013 are Hope Academy's Jalen James and De La Salle's Jaylon Tate. In most cases, top point guards would not want to play together. Not in this case!
The two have played together in the past and have become good friends. Tate talked about how their friendship developed.
"It started in our younger days when we were in 5th grade. We played in a league called the JNBA. We played together every Sunday, and ever since have been real close. People want to compare us and match us up, but we are still really close as friends and have a real good relationship."
James says they are like family.
"Jaylon and I grew up playing basketball together. Now we are real cool friends. We talk about colleges together. We are like brothers. I call him bro and he calls me bro."
James shared similar grade school memories.
"We played in the JNBA together. We played small fries and part of an AAU season together. We took turns playing point guard. He would play the point for a couple of possessions, and then I would play point guard for a while.
We had a real cool chemistry with each other. We got the job done and had fun doing it. We were real close as kids."
The childhood friends are now the top two point guards in the state of Illinois regardless of class. Colleges from around the country have started calling. The two have discussed the possibility of reuniting the old JNBA Pacers' backcourt according to Tate.
"We recently talked about it. If Illinois were to offer both of us, we could do it together. It is just friends talking, nothing is final."
James went further into their conversations.
"We actually talked about it the other day. He texted me talking about the same colleges he and I have. We have talked about visits we are going to take together and look at schools together.
We really don't have a problem playing together. Most people would probably think it is stupid for two point guards to go to the same school, but we look at it as both of us being in the backcourt doing damage together."
It has been proven that two point guards can play together successfully in Bruce Weber's system. James and Tate have contrasting styles that can compliment one another.
Tate has steadily seen his stock rise over the last year with his solid play, leading De La Salle during the high school season and following up by having a big spring as the point guard for the stacked Meanstreets 16 and Under team.
He runs his team well in the half court. Tate understands the game and does what is necessary to get his teammates in the right position to make plays.
"The biggest thing in running the team and being a floor general is to know when to get the ball to certain people at certain times," Tate reminds.
He has very good vision and finds the open man. He runs the pick-and-roll well by using proper spacing and decision-making.
"That is probably my favorite thing because you keep the defense guessing. They are not sure if you are going to shoot or make the pass."
Tate's mid-range shooting ability compliments his other attributes as he is solid with his pull-up jumper. He is calm and collected and a true leader on the floor.
"That is probably the biggest thing I have been working on. In working with my jump shot, I focus on my footwork and squaring up to the basket. I am starting to get my mid-range more consistent. Now I am trying to extend that out to three-point range."
His play is reminiscent of Williams. Tate can see himself playing in a similar role for future Illini teams.
"Yeah, definitely. I can see myself in that type of role."
James discussed what he likes about the De La Salle point guard.
"Jay is real quick off the dribble and runs the pick-and-roll. He has great court vision on the floor. He finds open teammates and can knock down the open jump shot."James saw Tate up close this spring in the semifinals of the Battle for the Arch Tournament in St. Louis.
"In St. Louis, playing against him was real fun because it was nice to see the new things he has added to his game. His first step is probably the fastest in the state of Illinois. He is quick off the dribble. If you turn your head, he is gone. He is really fast!"
James has exploded on the scene as well. He first came on the radar after Illini assistant coach Jerrance Howard caught one of his games for 1A Hope Academy last season.
His highlight tape was phenomenal, but there were questions as to the competition he was playing against. Those concerns were erased the minute he stepped on the court for the first time with the prestigious Illinois Wolves 16 and Under squad.
He showed he could hang with the top players from around the country in his age group. One of the biggest reasons is his explosive speed in transition. When he gets the ball, he flies by defenders as if they are standing still. He can finish on his own or dish to open teammates.
"When I was younger I was slow, but as I grew older I got faster. My brother kept me in the gym. He has kept putting me through speed workouts, and I got faster with the ball.
When I was younger, I was always a good finisher. I have continued getting faster with the ball, going by everyone on defense, and finding my teammates real fast."
James is a flashy passer who has a flair for the game.
"My brother always told me, 'Don't ever second guess anything.' When I am on a fast break, most people would probably think it might be a turnover. With me, when I see the lane is open, I take the opportunity to make the pass."
He is also good at beating his man off the bounce and getting to the hoop. James's ability to move without the ball and get open is another aspect that stands out.
"With my high school team the ball was in my hands, and I didn't have the chance to move without the ball. Coach (Mike) Mullins told me, 'If you don't move or play defense you will not play for me.'
In his offense, there is a lot of screening, moving, catching the ball and hitting the open jump shot. We pass, cut and use screens. I really have to move well without the ball to get open."
He is continuing to work on his jump shot so he can be a stronger offensive threat. He wants to improve his shot to become an offensive weapon like Brown.
"Every day after school, I come to Attack Athletics and work on my jump shot. They get out the gun for me, and I just shoot. Tim Grover told me to never stop shooting. Sometimes he won't let me get out of the gym until I hit 700 shots."
James could be the next "one man fastbreak" at Illinois. A Brown-type role in the Illini offense would be just fine with him.
"Dee Brown hits his open jump shots. He is fast in transition, makes good decisions, and gets his teammates involved. That is what I am doing right now.
I get my teammates the ball and knock down my open jump shots. I always look first to pass to get my teammates' confidence up, but when I need to score, I am willing to do that too.
Tate is a big fan of James's game.
"I love his intensity on defense. He really plays hard and is an unselfish player. If we played together, we could create for each other. That would be the biggest thing. We have a great relationship off the court, so that translates on the court."
The effect of the great 2005 team still has a major impact on in-state recruits to this day. That is what they think of first when thinking about the Illini program. Recruits want to take the program back to the glory days according to Tate.
"Illinois is really trying to get back to that level. As they are recruiting me, they are talking about getting back to that level."
James says the fact Illinois was so successful with their guard-oriented lineup makes him intrigued by the Illini and the possibility of playing with his friend.
"Basically, they had three point guards playing with Luther Head too. It doesn't really matter if two point guards go to the same school. We can get it done together, especially because we have good chemistry and know where each other are most of the time."
Tate was a big fan of the 2005 team.
"That was my favorite team because of those two guys. I really loved watching them play together. I wanted them to win the national championship that year. I really followed them."
According to James, that team still is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Illini program.
"Of course! I loved them. That team was great! Look at Deron Williams now. He is killing it in the league. Dee Brown made it. Luther Head is still doing it. I see him at Attack Athletics all the time. That team was great."
James says he would certainly be interested in playing with his old running mate at Illinois.
"When we were younger, we were just better than everybody. It was kind of easy for us. He blew past everyone, and I was there for the shot or the other way around.
In college, we would have to see how it goes. I would love to play with Jaylon. We are real close, like brothers, and it would be great to play with him."
Now, is this recruiting coup possible? It is likely both will receive offers in the near future. The deciding factor on whether or not this scenario could happen would be if the Illini take a point guard in 2012.
They have pursued several point guards including Marcus Paige, Ronnie Johnson, and Michael Orris. The trio decided to go elsewhere. If the Illini decide to pass on a point guard in 2012 and go with a player such as DeJuan Marrero, Jordon Granger, or elect to use the remaining scholarship for the following season, there would be enough playing time available to take two point guards in 2013.
There are positives and negatives to this scenario. The positive would be the Illini would be signing the top two point guard prospects in the state regardless of class and have two point guards that should be able to motor the Illinois attack for four years. They would be taking the best talent available on the board and two players that do not mind sharing the spotlight together.
On the negative side, there would be a question mark when it comes to who would back up Tracy Abrams at the point guard position during the 2012-2013 season? Several current squadmen including Brandon Paul, Crandall Head and Joseph Bertrand might serve that role if they continue to develop their skills. If none materialize, having no backup for Abrams might prove untenable.
If the Illini were to add both James and Tate in 2013, they would look to possibly adding a shooter such as Kendrick Nunn or Malcolm Hill, size in Tommy Hamilton, Devin Williams, or Russell Woods, and they will certainly wait out super recruit Jabari Parker until makes his decision.
With both James and Tate interested in playing with one another and Illinois showing heavy interest, it is not out of the question for these two to be running mates in Orange and Blue as part of the Illini's 2013 recruiting class.