Illinois Trip 'Sets the Bar High'

Elite 2015 big man Carlton Bragg said he more than enjoyed his visit to Illinois this weekend.

John Groce left nothing to question while hosting elite forward Carlton Bragg on an unofficial visit this weekend.

The Illinois head coach and his staff put together a package of information, a plan for both basketball and academics that left the Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph (Ohio) 2015 five-star and those close to him in awe.

Above all else, Bragg said he felt comfortable with Groce.

"He's the real deal. The way he talks and his energy, it's all real," Bragg said. "He's not going to tell you what you want to hear. He's going to give it to you the way it really is."

Bragg made the trip with his high school assistant coach Michael Graves and his family, arriving Friday night. The group then toured the new State Farm Center, with Groce detailing to Bragg all the renovations that are about to take place before taking him out to dinner on campus.

Saturday the Illini staff put on the full court press.

Bragg got to the chance to see assistant Dustin Ford run juniors Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu through drills, and then he met with the strength and conditioning staff.

"They showed us all the changes they've made with strength and conditioning since Groce got there," Graves said. "They showed us about nutrition and how an athlete's body works. It was a lot of good information."

Then athletic director Mike Thomas made an appearance.

"That was a real good session there," Graves said. "He was telling us about the department, the school, how he has an open door policy with the kids. He was real, real, honest, you could just feel in his heart he was real about the kids and the department."

Bragg also met with the team nutritionist and team chaplain.

"That was a special moment meeting with the chaplain because last time we there he wasn't full time. Groce hired him full time to be there mentoring kids as far as the Christian way," Graves said. "Groce pulled him in to be there on the team bus, when the kids win, when they lose – just all the time. That's really good."

From there it was on to the academic portion of the presentation. Bragg and his group met with a fleet of counselors and toured the learning facilities. He was told about the degree programs, shown how the athletes study on the road and was made to realize that Groce holds his players accountable in the classroom. The staff even showed Bragg a plan for graduating with multiple options if he decides to turn pro after one, two or three seasons at Illinois.

"That was a really big part of the visit because I value education and basketball," Bragg said.

The entire visit, according to Graves, went exceptionally well.

"The staff did a good job," Graves said. "They set the bar high. They really did their homework on Carlton – that was the one thing. We were like ‘wow, they really have a plan academically and as far as hoop wise.' "

As far as recruiting goes, a trip to Ohio State is next up for Bragg, who was on his way to a team camp in southern Ohio early Sunday morning. Graves said all visits to other schools in the future would be compared to the trip to Champaign.

The time spent at Illinois left an impression.

"What I liked is the Illinois coaches, they set up goals for you," Bragg said. "They set up accomplishments and you have to go out and achieve them. I like that."

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