Close, But No Cigar (Yet)

CHAMPAIGN - Make no mistake, there are no moral victories in recruiting.

The Illinois coaching staff and Faithful found that out Thursday afternoon after five-star point guard Demetrius Jackson chose Notre Dame over the Illini.

Jackson was exactly what coach John Groce needed, an athletic lead guard that could initiate the offense he's trying to install.

Finishing second is no better than placing eighth because, after all the hustle and fuss, Jackson will be suiting up for the Irish come next season.

And a backup option at point guard doesn't appear readily available, either, after targets Rashawn Powell (Memphis) and London Perrantes (Virginia) committed elsewhere earlier this month.

Deep down, though, Groce and his staff should feel good about how close Jackson was to aligning with the Orange and Blue. Only a few months on the job, Groce did enough to convince Jackson Illinois was a viable destination. Any program battling Notre Dame for the 6-1, 190-pound standout from Mishawaka, Ind., faced a tall order. Notre Dame is less than 20 minutes from Jackson's home, has been recruiting him the longest and is moving to the ACC.

Pulling him out of the clutches of comfort wasn't going to be easy for any coach not named Mike Brey.

But Groce made one heck of a run and came close. He gave Jackson pause, and while it didn't pan out, that shows Groce's message and approach continue to resonate.

In the wake of Kendrick Nunn's commitment two weeks ago, Groce is showing he can sell his program to elite talent. The near miss on Jackson only furthers that notion.

While placing runner-up Thursday won't help on-court results, it does show Illinois is a serious player on the recruiting trail, something that had to be established after Groce accepted the position.

Consider it a job well done, just not quite complete.

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