Alonzo Verge Jr. put a charge in the Windy City last season during a sophomore campaign with Willowbrook.
Verge surged with offensive electricity in a string of 40-point performances in February. He showed off his game-changing combination of speed, elusiveness, handles, vision and attacking ability off the dribble. Verge averaged more than 23 points per game as the biggest breakout performer in the state.
This year, he will suit up for Proviso West after announcing his transfer plans last week. The situation involving Verge’s transfer has been dissected and speculated. His dad was a former All-State player at Proviso West. But there is more to the story than family connections.
There are a list of question marks surrounding Verge away from the basketball court. He was suspended for a game last season and did not play during his freshman year. But between the lines, you won’t find an uncertain thought about his ability. That is why the Illini pulled the trigger on an offer in April.
What We Saw In July
After starring on the high school scene, Verge had to adjust to a complementary role with the St. Louis Eagles this summer. The Eagles featured a handful of high-major prospects, including 2016 five-star small forward Jayson Tatum and 2017 five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon. Verge went through ups and downs coming off the bench, as he tried to find his groove.
You knew that he was always going to change the pace of the game when he stepped on the floor. Verge can take it coast to coast in the blink of an eye and he’ll put your ankles through a test run. Sometimes, he was erratic and tried too hard to force the issue. But Verge’s flash was magnetizing and he gave a taste of what he has to offer.
In July, something clicked for Verge at the Peach Jam. As big-time players do, he thrived in the spotlight during bracket play against the best of the best. The Eagles were locked in a heavyweight battle versus Team CP3 in the semifinals, and they found themselves trailing in the second half. Then, Verge transformed the game in a flash.
He buried a pair of triples, got to the basket and made plays on the defensive end to lead the charge. Verge finished with 13 points and four steals an impact-filled 20 minutes of action. The Eagles grabbed the win in the closing seconds. It was a sign of things to come for Verge.
How He’d Fit In Illini Class
The Illini are in need of a high-level lead guard, and Verge may have the highest ceiling of any in the state right now. At 6-foot-2, he can play comfortably at the one or the two.
But Verge is best suited with the ball in his hands. He would be the ideal get for John Groce to surround with weapons and push the pace. While he can certainly get his own shot, Verge is outstanding at breaking down the defense and finding the open guy.
If the non-basketball aspects smooth themselves out, Verge would be a great fit in the 2017 class. But that is a big ‘if’ at this moment.
Where Do The Illini Stand
Groce made a lasting impression when he picked up the phone and made the offer to Verge in April. He and his mom, Tricia Moncrief, were drawn to Groce’s energy and charisma. That feeling was solidified when Verge took an unofficial visit to Champaign in June. It was the first trip during his recruitment, and the offer has stuck out in his mind.
"I was excited because that’s where I’m from," Verge said this spring. "I’m just grateful to have that opportunity. I think it’s a good program. That is definitely a school that I’ve been looking at."
Verge said he felt at home during the campus visit this summer. Moncrief talked about their impressions after the trip.
"It was really impressive," she said. "Coach Groce welcomed us right away and made us feel real comfortable. It seemed like the coaches and Alonzo hit it off real good. Overall, it was a very informative visit. It was real nice to get to know the campus."
Moncrief added that the biggest takeaway was the relationship Groce has with his players. She is looking for something similar with her son.
"The most important thing to me is someone who can support him and develop him as a young man," she said. "He can go anywhere and pretty much fit into a basketball program just with his knowledge and basketball IQ. So what I will be looking for is how you’re going to develop him outside of basketball. How will you support him in developing him as a young man?"
With the off-court uncertainties, Verge needs that direction and support to keep him on the right path. That is something Groce can provide, but it will be up to Verge to take the necessary steps to get to that point. The opportunity is there for the taking, and that’s why Moncrief wanted her son to get a look at what could lie ahead.
"The main reason for the visit was just to give Alonzo a feel of what he has to look forward to," she said. "Giving him something to reach higher for and that was kind of my thought behind this visit. Just to kind of give him the opportunity to see how things can be for him. To get focused on that dream and showing him that it’s reachable."
Verge said the message from the staff on the visit was “there’s no place like home”. He’s already answered the call on the court, but can he show that his academics and discipline are worthy of the destination? That is the question.
Sizing Up The Competition
Creighton, DePaul, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon and Providence were among the schools that also reached out to Verge during the contact period in June. Oregon and Providence join the Illini on the offer sheet. Many other schools have a high interest in Verge, but the negative buzz has kept them cautious. The competition will heat up in a hurry if he can prove to learn from his mistakes.