Illinois basketball fans may be most familiar with the in-state targets for the program, but they should quickly adjust their gaze over to the St. Louis area for 2016 wing Xavier Sneed.
He has been a big priority for the Illini staff, as assistant coach Jamall Walker did a great job of laying the foundation in his recruitment. Sneed will kick off the official visit slate for Illinois by heading to Champaign on August 28th. That is big news for John Groce & Co. to be his first, and potentially only, visit on the destination list.
Sneed cut his list to five earlier this month with Illinois, Creighton, Kansas State, Wichita State and Xavier. He originally said that he plans to take official visits to all five finalists. But for now, Illinois is the only visit he has on the table.
“All I know is that I’m going there next weekend,” Sneed told IlliniInquirer.com on Monday.
If the Illini are able to close, Sneed would be a big first addition to the 2016 class.
What We Saw In July
Sneed was one of the most improved players in the EYBL when he took the court at Peach Jam last month. After shooting just 27.6 percent from deep during league play, Sneed showcased a vastly improved outside stroke by shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc. He also went from shooting 35.5 percent from the field in the spring to 55.6 percent at the tournament.
“I feel like my shooting has stepped up a lot this summer and I feel like I’m getting better every game,” Sneed said in July.
With a confident outside jumper, Sneed continued to thrive in other aspects of his game. The 6-foot-5 small forward brings big-time athleticism to the court, along with a high motor, scoring ability off the bounce and a knack for locking down opponents. Sneed’s offensive game will grow even more with time, but it all starts with defense for him.
“My job is to guard the best player on the other side and lock him up every night,” he said.
Sneed was a crucial piece to the St. Louis Eagles’ run to the Peach Jam finals. With the majority of the focus on five-star talent Jayson Tatum, Sneed was able to slash through the defense and finish. But his biggest value resided in his hustle and defensive tenacity. Sneed showed that he can play a similar role at the next level.
How He’d Fit In Illini Class
The 2016 class is all about filling needs and building the strength of the Illini roster. Groce has wings who can shoot it in Jalen Coleman-Lands and Aaron Jordan. The best way to complement that is finding a player of a different mold. Sneed can definitely be that guy and help to balance out the roster.
His athleticism and defense have big-time value to the Illini. If he continues to develop his stroke, watch out. Adding Sneed would allow Illinois to build some momentum in the 2016 class and beyond. He would help the sell to the program’s point guard targets, and he could really be key in the pursuit of 2017 Eagles teammates Jordan Goodwin and Jeremiah Tilmon.
Where Do The Illini Stand
The Illini have been considered the quiet favorites for Sneed over the last few weeks, but it may not stay quiet for long. Sneed’s relationship with Groce and Walker has played a big part in their position.
“They’re all good guys. Our relationship has been growing and growing,” Sneed said last month.
Aside from his connection to the coaches, Sneed is looking for a program that can succeed at a high level and give him the opportunity to develop. He is also very focused on the academic side, and he said that will be a big part of his decision. The Illini seem to stack up quite well in all aspects and they’ve impressed Sneed to this point.
“The tradition they have—they have a really great program there,” he said. “Their academics and everything is great there. So everybody knows the program is pretty good.”
Illinois must be successful in their own state to reach its full potential, but Groce’s biggest successes on the recruiting trail have come from outside the state lines. He solidified a commitment from Leron Black (2014 class) before he left campus on his official visit, and Coleman-Lands (2015 class) made his pledge just days after his trip to Champaign. Can Groce do the same with Sneed?
The Illini hope they will be discussing his commitment over pancakes on the Sunday morning of his visit weekend.
Sizing Up The Competition
Kansas State and Xavier extended offers to Sneed before Illinois pulled the trigger. Like Groce, former Illini coach Bruce Weber has made Sneed a big priority during a crucial time in his tenure. There has been major turnover at Kansas State, as star point guard Marcus Foster and two others were dismissed this spring. On top of that, two more players opted to transfer. That fact and Weber’s job security are tough obstacles to overcome in recruiting high-level players.
Creighton and Wichita State round out the top five. It remains to be seen who will be Illinois’ toughest competition in this race. Missouri was thought to be a big player for Sneed, but the home-state program fell out of the race with their current mess.
For reference, Kansas State was originally scheduled to follow the Illini on the visit schedule. Sneed pulled back on those plans and said he needed to rework his itinerary. Early visits are a positive with Sneed, who has grown tired of the recruiting process.
He wants to find the right destination as soon as reasonably possible, and there’s a good chance he will do that in Champaign later this month. Sneed could take a visit or two to compare, though.