Elijah Thomas: "Yeah, we lost the game before state. So we lost that, but at least I know I'm down to ten schools."
IP: When do you want to announce the list?
ET: "I think I'm going to do it next week."
What has gone into that thought process of narrowing the list down?
ET: "Towards the end of the season I just kind of came out and watched. I watched closely on TV how the coaches coached, how they talked, you know, just the little stuff. Googled some research, and I also watched how packed the home games were. I just looked at their record away from home. I wanted to see how things went away from the home arena. I looked at myself being able to go there and accomplish things I want to accomplish."
IP: What are some of those things you want to accomplish? I know the NBA is one, but what are some of the other milestones?
ET: "Well, most of all, I want to go to college with someone I'm close with. I want that. Little things. I want to be able to play right away. I want to be able to be better than I was coming into the program. I want to be able to win, that's a must for me. I hate losing. I absolutely hate losing."
IP: Is Illinois in that top 10?
ET: "Most definitely Illinois is. If I had a top five, Illinois would be in my top 5."
IP: What are some other schools recruiting you? Don't tell me your top 10. Just some other schools recruiting you throughout this process. Some old, some new.
IP: You seem to really like Illinois. You told me your mom liked Illinois last time we spoke. Is your mom still a big influence? Is she at all concerned with proximity and staying close to home?
ET: "Most definitely. At the end of the day, it's your choice, but you always want your mom and your family and people close to you to also feel close to the coach. And there are only three schools that are options to stay close to home. She would love for me to stay, but she knows i have an interest in going away from home. Of course she wants me to stay close to home and see my games, but she just wants me to be able to get to the next level. So at the end of the day I don't think she cares whether I'm too close."
IP: And how close is Illinois?
ET: "I believe it's a direct flight, like a two-hour flight."
IP: When you speak with Coach Groce and members of the staff, what makes them stand out?
ET: "They have a really great coaching staff. I can trust them with my recruitment. I can trust them with my future and my goals just because of the family oriented bond i have with them. I have friends like Leron (Black) who committed there, and DJ (Williams) who committed there, and they're recruiting two of my best friends. Another thing I like is that they don't recruit everybody. They are high believers that my recruiting class could be like the game changer of his era at Illinois. I believe that as well. I like that. The chaplain is legit, and the direct flight is great. The airport is really close to campus. I put my Snapchat on Twitter and like 200 fans snapchat me every day. It's a blessing. They want me to come to Champaign. They make pictures of me in Illinois jerseys and stuff. A lot of them are students, so it's fun. It's pretty cool. Illinois fans are winning the fan race, I can say they are winning the fan race. Duke is not there, Kansas is not there, so Illinois is definitely winning. It makes me think Illinois is a really good school."
IP: You mentioned it being important to go to school with someone you are close with, and then you mention Leron and DJ. Just tell me a little bit about the relationship you have with them. Have they weighed in on your recruitment?
"Well Leron is kind of quiet until you're with him, but when I see him he's like, 'Man, quit playing, when are you going to come to Illinois?' (laughter) I got really close with Maverick (Morgan) last year. Because we played them his last year in high school he's a good friend of mine. Me and DJ are friends from the USA camp. That's my boy, he's always like, 'come on man, Illinois.' Illinois is starting to grow on me, I can say that much."
*He then interrupts the conversation and says...*
ET: "Wow. I just got a snapchat from an Illinois fan. They got a blocked shot with thirteen seconds and won the game. That's great." (Speaking about the NIT win against Boston U).
IP: Now that you are cutting your list to 10, how are you handling it? This is when recruitments get heavy and hectic. People are committing left and right, dropping schools left and right. How are you dealing with the craziness?
ET: "I'm just taking it one day at a time. I feel like as I mature into it, I'll know for a fact when I'm ready. I wish I was a senior so I could take official visits and commit. As time flies, you start to get a really good feel for maybe two or three colleges. You really figure out what you want to do, and that's the feeling I'm waiting on."
IP: Anybody offering advice?
ET: "My brother, my coaches, my family members, my best friends, stuff like that."
IP: What are the main things you are going to be working on to ensure you can be the best college player you can be?
ET: "I'm trying to develop my game into a pro-type of game. Adding more versatility to my game, expanding my game, knowing what my bread and butter is. Getting into absolutely freakish shape and gaining more athleticism, that's pretty much my goal. I think as I've played, I've gained the super mentality of being a leader on and off the court and figuring out what it takes to be a winner, even though we lost. It just made me stronger as a player, because my team went from literally nothing, to being 17th in the country before we lost."