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Piper Mailbag - Aug. 25

Illini Inquirer lead basketball reporter Derek Piper answers members' questions about Xavier Simpson, Darius Paul, etc.

With official visits upon us and the start of practice just about a month away, Illini Inquirer lead basketball reporter Derek Piper answers premium members' Illinois hoops and recruiting questions.

What are the chances Xavier Simpson commits on his visit? Or will he definitely go to Miami?

I’d say they are pretty slim. Anything can happen on an official visit. But the plan for him is to go on his trip to Miami and evaluate his options from there.

Is there any chance that Charlie Moore would move his official visit earlier? And I have read rumblings that we are not as highly thought of by Moore as we were earlier in his recruitment. What is your opinion?

Illinois originally pushed for Sept. 11, which is when he’ll visit California. Even since the Illini locked in Sept. 25, I was told they wanted to move him up to Sept. 17. But that looks unlikely since Moore is scheduled to go to Pittsburgh on Sept. 18. You don’t see official visits in back-to-back days.

As for the second part, I think it’s fair to say that the Illini are no longer the clear favorites. The buzz has died down a little bit for them. I still think they are one of the big players and they’ll get their shot when the times comes. There is a lot of jockeying for position in recruiting and the frontrunner is subject to change. But it’s all about who is in front at the very end, and we haven’t reached that point yet.

I think Cal is the biggest concern for Illinois right now. You saw that Iowa did not secure an official visit, and they were considered a huge contender after offering as early as anyone. The worry for Illinois, with consideration to Iowa’s situation, is that maybe Moore sees the Cal offer as more appealing because it is relatively new and different from the others. Cuonzo Martin made a big splash in the spring by signing two top-10 prospects in the 2015 class, so he knows how to build excitement about that program.

Is the staff looking to fill Darius Paul's scholarship with a 5th year player or bring in someone they could redshirt? We need a center next year bad. Is there any way we talk to Kenyatta Smith from Harvard?

I’m told they are going to look at potential transfers but won’t settle if the fit isn’t right. Smith is a fifth-year transfer option after missing essentially all of the 2013-14 season due to a broken foot. He averaged 4.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 12.7 minutes per game last year at Harvard. Maybe he can give you some insurance this year.

But like you said, there is a bigger emphasis on filling the gap next year. I’d say it’s pretty likely that they will be looking for another fifth-year big in the spring.

Since they have an extra scholarship now, would Groce consider taking two PG in 2016?

I think Groce would take it if the opportunity presented itself, but I don’t think it will. If Simpson commits to Illinois, then Moore and Te'Jon Lucas will drop the Illini from consideration. You can arrange those names in any order and get the same thing. These guys want a solidified opportunity to play right away, instead of competing with each other for minutes.

Since you are a certified insider, could you share with us your most illegal, underhanded, cheating, type of recruiting tactic you’ve heard about (leave out the names and schools and anything regarding the hat switch guy) that's been used against Illinois. That would be interesting if you can.

Hard to answer because this stuff is usually talked about but we don’t see the evidence in the public light. I've heard quite a few rumors about different recruitments. The most common one is providing a 'good situation' for the important people in the recruitment so they will have an influence one way or another. This comes in many different forms.

What big guys do we have a chance at in 2016? For 2017, what would your dream class be? Chances of it happening?

Officially, the Illini are still in the mix with Jayce Johnson, Clevon Brown and James Banks. Johnson is in the final steps of cutting down his list. It didn’t sound good for Illinois the last I heard. I was told about two weeks ago that Illinois was in the top half of Brown’s list of 10 schools. His only visits set up are Vanderbilt and Texas, though. I think he goes to one of those schools, and it’s probably Texas. Banks will start his visit slate with Texas and Vanderbilt as well. Illinois is going to push for a visit but we’ll have to wait and see if they can get it done.

Here is what my 2017 dream class would look like…

G Paul Scruggs
G Jordan Poole
G/F Jordan Goodwin
F Derek Culver
C Jeremiah Tilmon

Honestly, I don’t see this particular group (only two in-state guys) being realistic. There is a lot of talent in the state of Illinois and the staff has made great in-roads. I’d say this is probably the best case scenario of the realistic possibilities…

G Da’Monte Williams
G Jordan Poole
G/F Jordan Goodwin
F Christian Negron
C Jeremiah Tilmon

Any update on Jalen Coleman-Lands?

Nothing new since they have been back from Europe. There have been rumors that news could be worse than originally diagnosed. If the bone doesn’t heal on its own, he would need surgery to insert screws. That would probably put him out for the season. John Groce will hold a press conference on Wednesday and we’ll get a chance to ask him about Coleman-Lands’ progress.

I really like what I hear from Christian Negron about his hustle and high motor. This may be a bad comparison because they’re both 6’6 power forwards, but is he anything like Roger Powell? I hear his favorite team has always been the Illini growing up. Thanks.

The comparison makes sense being that both are undersized fours, who play bigger than their height and possess good athleticism. Negron has that never-ending motor just like Powell too. Now, he just needs to work on that mid-range game. Negron also reminds me of a thinner version of Ed Morrow.

Illinois is in a good spot with him, and they'll try to get him on campus this fall.

Is there any chance that there is a shakeup with the assistant coaches after this year? It seems like a new voice could help a lot, plus a true 'big man' coach that we could sell to recruits.

I agree that a true big man coach would be nice. Illini fans would also love to see Dee Brown on the staff if that’s what he wants to do. But Groce is a loyal guy and it’s hard to forecast who they would push out. Dustin Ford has been his right-hand man. Jamall Walker has built some crucial relationships in the St. Louis area. Paris Parham is really connected up in Chicago. This year is really important for all those guys to show their worth on the court and in recruiting. That being said, I don’t really see Groce making a change unless it is forced from the top, or one of those guys gets another job.

Any idea if we will see more Zone Defense this season or about the same defense strategy of last season with a little mix of both Man to Man and Zone? What are you personally excited to see this basketball season?

I’d expect to see a similar mix of zone and man. I think Groce did a good job of that, and it was a big reason the Illini beat Maryland last year. It will depend on the opponent, but the Illini could use more zone to combat some depth issues this time around.

I’m excited for quite a few things this year. Watching Coleman-Lands make an impact as a freshman was probably at the top of my list, but we’ll have to learn more about his status. It will be really fun to be there for the State Farm Center opener against Notre Dame. I’m also excited to see how this team can battle through adversity in a loaded Big Ten. Lastly, will Groce change his approach at all this time around after not having the right mix down the stretch last year?

How would landing one of our 2016 PG targets impact our 2017 backcourt recruiting?

There are only so many minutes to go around at the point guard position. If the Illini get a guy like Simpson or Moore, it could discourage 2017 point guards who want to start for Day One. It will be interesting to see what happens because the Illini are recruiting quite a few combo guards in 2017, who could play point guard or off the ball.

Would Simpson or Moore change the outlook for Williams? We’ll have to see. I know his camp has said that getting a 2016 point guard won’t automatically remove them from consideration. But the Illini would have to prove that they still give him the best opportunity to succeed. The same can be said for Alonzo Verge, Poole and others.

Are there any plans for a special event on the opening day of basketball practice?

I’m told there are no plans for a public event, especially since the arena won’t be ready.

At this point in time, does Charlie Moore have any regrets about his recruitment (i.e., not committing)?  He seemed so high on Illini and now Xavier is visiting this weekend.

I can’t really speak on Moore’s feelings. But I doubt that he has any feeling of remorse at this point with everything still on the table. That spot at Illinois is still open if he wants it.

How many schollies will be allocated to the important, highly rated, 2017 class vs. used to satisfy needs for 2016?

The original plan was to use three spots on the 2016 group, which would include a transfer big if need be. They could use four in this class now, but that would assume Tracy Abrams isn’t coming back. It also assumes that the Illini will have enough guys on board to fill out the available spots. I’m not sure they’re going to land a big in the 2016 class, so they’ll probably be looking for a transfer. It’s hard to know what will happen with Abrams too.

So if they use all four spots for next year, they’ll have four spots for the 2017 class. If they use only three of them, they will have five in 2017. But my guess is that if they have a spot to use and Abrams wants to come back, he will get another opportunity to do so.

Can you drop hints to staff that Deon Thomas would be nice addition?

The staff is pretty tight-knit so they probably won’t take kindly to the idea of one of them needing to go. I got a chance to meet Deon last summer at an AAU event and he’s a good guy. Obviously, he was a very successful player as well. Not sure he has the recruiting connections you’re looking for, though. But there’s something to be said about a former McDonald’s All-American, Mr. Basketball and true Illini guy. I know this staff would love to sign a guy like him in one of their classes.

Can you drop hints to the staff that if they hire someone as an assistant coach with big man expertise, it should be Roger Powell and not Deon Thomas?

Along the same lines, the staff has each other’s backs. But I think Roger could do well as an assistant at Illinois. He’s really likeable and a very good player in his own right. If Groce has it his way, this staff will stay intact. But if a spot opens up and you want big man expertise, I’d say Powell would be a good candidate.

Is Illinois still recruiting Justin Smith and if so, do you think he'll visit at some point this upcoming season?

The Illini are definitely still recruiting Smith, but I think he dropped quite a bit on the priority list this summer. He has some good offensive skill but needs to be tougher physically and mentally. Smith didn’t play with any kind of assertiveness or consistency on the 17U circuit, but I expect him to have a good high school season.

Being just a drive down I-57 away, Smith will likely be back down to Champaign sometime in the near future.

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