That's Recruiting

It wasn't the best couple of hours for John Groce and Illinois... Recruiting losses mounted Friday, but still the future remains bright.

CHICAGO - The kid who kept everybody guessing throughout his recruitment had one more stunt to pull at the last second.

Cliff Alexander forced the Illini Nation to forever turn it's back on him by initially moving for an Illinois hat before switching to Kansas.

Teenage boys will be boys. But the move was a frosty cold ice pick to the hearts of those in Orange and Blue, a group already reeling and having a bad day.

The No. 4 player in the country chose the Jayhawks after much speculation the home-state school had positioned itself to land it's high-rated prospect since the 1980s.

Earlier, the point guard of the future second-guessed himself out the door, too, as Quentin Snider de-committed from Illinois and signed with his on-again-off-again flame Louisville.

What could have been the best class in school history turned into a mash of disappointment towards Snider's situation and anger for Alexander's diss.

My take on all this: Coach John Groce may need a while to get over all of what went down, but he deserves a tip of the cap for A) who he did sign in Leron Black and Michael Finke and B) what he almost assembled given the full scope of what it took to get so close.

Second place doesn't count for much in these matters, but in the end a few dominoes outside of Groce's control fell against what he was trying to piece together.

JaQuan Lyle, who's commitment to Lousiville led Snider to Illinois in the first place, changed his mind and backed out. That left the door open for a return to the Cardinals for Snider, who wanted to stay as close to home as possible and grew up rooting for Lousiville.

Can't blame him there.

It didn't end well with Alexander, but his actions in those final moments don't negate what Groce was able to root in with the five-star from Curie.

"I love Coach Groce," he said later. "He did a great job."

The truth is Kansas was in good shape with Alexander for a long time. Curie head coach Mike Oliver summed it up best.

"If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it," he said. Jayhawks coach Bill Self sold Alexander on winning and getting to the NBA. Assistant Jerrance Howard had the longest existing relationship of those recruiting Alexander, dating back to when he was on staff at Illinois. Kansas offered the perfect package of tradition, success and familiarity.

Again, can't blame the kid there.

Still, Groce did a masterful job in making it hard for Alexander to say no.

"He was genuine," Oliver said. "He was honest with him from day one. He made him feel comfortable."

Illinois didn't get help from others with Alexander either. Prior to his announcement, Alexander listened intently as Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones picked Duke over Kansas. His face showed a nervous and serious look in the moments leading up and he later admitted he would have chosen Illinois if the Jayhawks had been their go-to.

In other words, he wanted to pick Kansas and was also willing to choose Illinois.

"Either way it could have been a great situation," Oliver said. "He went with his gut feeling."

If all this sounds like a business decision, it's because it was. Had Illinois won out for Alexander because of Okafor's and Tyus's decision, fans wouldn't have known the real reason and it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

It didn't work out this time though. That's recruiting. But as it goes in the sales industry, you have to be in the final group before you can be the one chosen.

With Groce, the Illini have been involved in a few high-profile battles. It didn't go so well with Demetrius Jackson last November and Alexander and Snider on Friday.

But those losses have no bearing on future prospect's decisions. Doubt Groce at your own risk. At some point, a five-star recruit is going to pick up the Illinois hat and place it on his head for good.


Illini Inquirer Top Stories