The Illinois basketball program has been wide-reaching in their campaign for the 2017 class, and they have big-time Indianapolis combo guard Paul Scruggs slotted as one of the top priorities.
The in-state group is as good as it's been in 2017, but John Groce has made a concerted effort to take advantage of the nearby talent in Indy. Groce extended offers to Scruggs and his AAU teammate Kris Wilkes in late April, and the pair of top-30 prospects visited Champaign in June. According to the Scout.com rankings, Scruggs is the most talented 2017 guard on Illinois' wish list.
The competition is stiff for a player who borders on being elite in this class. But the Illini have impressed in their pitch to this point, and they have some beneficial connections in the right places. Scruggs will ultimately be tough to land but Illinois figures to be one of the major players going forward.
What We Saw In July
Making the full-time transition over to point guard this summer, Scruggs is one of the most physically-imposing players at the position. At 6-foot-4, he is great at using his size and strength to take it to the basket and finish. Scruggs is nearly impossible to stop when he decides to get to the rim. His aggressive mentality and developing lead guard skills make him a high-level commodity at the next level.
"Everybody in the world knows he can get to the bucket pretty much at will with his peers," Indy Hoosiers head coach Mike Peterson said. "A lot of kids that are point guards now have been point guards their whole lives. Paul's ceiling is so high because he's only been playing point guard a couple of years. It's going to be an annual progression. Every year, you turn on the film and see that he's gotten better."
Scruggs was one of the top 16U performers at the Under Armour Finals in July, as he was top-10 in the league in points (12.3 per game) and No. 1 in assists (4.7 per game). His play was a big reason the Hoosiers advanced to the championship game of the event. Scruggs averaged 10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game throughout the summer on the UA circuit.
While he does so many things well, the key for Scruggs is to continue improving his jumper. That is the only thing holding him back from being a complete player at this point. Scruggs was just 3-for-11 from deep in 16 games on the Under Armour tour. His low number of attempts was mostly attributed to his driving ability, but developing that aspect of his game will be crucial for the next level. Peterson said Scruggs showed a nice pull-up jumper in July, and his three-point range is getting there.
If he can be a legitimate threat to shoot from the outside, Scruggs will be virtually unguardable.
How He'd Fit In Illini Class
If Groce could hand-pick his 2017 class, Scruggs would be one of the first players he'd put on the board. He is the type of home-run get that the program has been dreaming about the last few years. Scruggs could be inserted right into the lead guard role from Day One, and he would provide flexibility in the backcourt with his ability to move off the ball.
With shooters on the outside, Scruggs would be a perfect fit as a guy who can collapse the defense on the drive and make plays. Just by looking at his talent, he'd be a big sell to other top recruits in the class.
Where Do The Illini Stand
Scruggs has definitely taken notice to Illinois' pursuit over the last few months, and he came away with a great impression of the staff and program after his visit in June.
"It was more than we expected," Peterson said. "The staff was so down to earth and warming. They're going through a remodel with their facilities and they look really good. We also didn't realize they were a top-five business school in the nation. That all bodes well. Also, the fact that we can get on the highway and in about two hours, you're on campus. It was a pretty impressive visit."
The prestige of the business school is a big sell to Scruggs, as that is his desired area of study. The opportunity to play right away in the Big Ten and thrive in the ball-screen offense is attractive as well. The proximity to home factors in too.
"I think what it boils down to is that he's going to want to play right away. He's going to want to play relatively close to home. We're going to want him to get a good education," Peterson said. "We're going to want to get him dropped off with his microwave, TV and everything he needs to start school and feel like he's in good hands. I think Groce stressed that and it'd be a place that we feel comfortable."
Groce also stressed the fact that the 2017 class could be game-changing at Illinois if they can capitalize on the surrounding talent. Scruggs would be a huge part of that if he joined the movement.
"They want that class to come in and really help do the facelift for his tenure being there," Peterson said. "It's definitely a place where he can go and play right away and make a big imprint on the program."
Groce's selling points were impressive to Peterson and Scruggs, but his charisma and enthusiasm may have been what stood out the most.
"Coach Groce was awesome," Peterson said. "He's an awesome recruiter and he's just so real. He's a family guy and a player's coach. We're walking through the campus and he's shaking other people's hands. He's humble. I like him a lot."
Connections are a big part of recruiting, and the Illini have an important one established with Peterson that extends to his family.
"My first impressions of John go back to when he was able to take his Ohio team to the Sweet Sixteen. For Paul especially, I loved the way he let his guards play," Peterson said. "My cousin, Walter Offutt, was a player on that team and now he's the GA down at Illinois."
Peterson told IlliniInquirer.com on Thursday that they plan to visit Champaign again after football season.
"We're definitely getting back to Champaign," he said. "Paul likes Illinois a lot."
Sizing Up The Competition
No program has been in the mix longer than the home-state Hoosiers. Indiana head coach Tom Crean extended an offer to Scruggs when he was in eighth grade, and he's been a big-time priority ever since.
"There's never a week that goes by when I don't hear from Coach (Tim) Buckley and Coach Crean. They've been there since Day One," Peterson said.
Kansas, Michigan State, Purdue, Wake Forest and Xavier have offered as well. The Spartans jumped on board with an offer after watching Scruggs this spring. Kentucky has been in the mix too, and Scruggs took an unofficial visit to Lexington in June.
Peterson said earlier this summer that Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State and Kentucky were standing out in the process. That will be a tough group for Illinois to compete with when things heat up.