The wait is over for John Groce and the Illinois basketball program when it comes to landing a point guard on the recruiting trail, as four-star playmaker Te'Jon Lucas announced his commitment to the Illini on Wednesday.
Lucas locked in plans for an official visit to Champaign this weekend, but on Tuesday, he decided to put an end to the anticipation. The 5-foot-11 point guard will be Illinois' answer at the position in the 2016 class and he'll be welcomed as such when he comes to campus in a few days.
Lucas caught the attention of Illinois and others on the AAU circuit in July. He was spectacular at the NY2LA Summer Jam near his hometown of Milwaukee, as he proved to be one of the high caliber point guards in the Midwest. Lucas was most impressive with his court vision, savvy and ability to create with the ball in his hands.
The Illini extended an offer to Lucas in late July, and they hosted him and his family for an unofficial visit at the beginning of August. Lucas took an official visit to USC on Sept. 4, and he was at Old Dominion for an official last weekend as well. But the Illini seemed to lock things up last Wednesday when Groce and assistant Paris Parham went to Milwaukee for an in-home visit.
Lucas said all along that he wanted to feel like a priority and have a chance to play significant minutes from the beginning.
“I’m just looking for an opportunity," Lucas told IlliniInquirer.com last month. "I don’t want to come in and sit the bench. I’m looking to really be a priority. I’m looking at the style of play. I want to go somewhere that I would be able to fit in and do what I do best. Also, somewhere that I have a good relationship with the coaches.”
The Illini sold Lucas on that, especially with their willingness to take him without waiting for Charlie Moore. Illini fans may have preferred a top-100 prospect like Moore or Xavier Simpson, but Lucas' value should not be overlooked.
A source told IlliniInquirer.com that Butler, Cal, Texas and Wisconsin recently tried to jump in the mix. It's also no secret that Lucas was one of the biggest stock risers in July, and his rapid improvement is a positive sign for even more growth.
The need for a point guard in this class was undeniable for Illinois, and they're getting a good one in Lucas. He has a natural feel at the position and he knows how to make players around him better. Lucas is a great fit in Groce's ball-screen offense with his ability to drive and dish. He is also a skilled finisher around the rim.
Lucas needs to add some strength to his frame and continue to progress defensively. Outside shooting isn't his best trait, but he can certainly knock it down. That part of his game, and his skill set as a whole, should only improve as time goes on.
There is no question that Lucas can compete for minutes in the backcourt during his first season in Champaign. He is a more capable shooter than Jaylon Tate, and the weapons around him would play to his strength. The big key will be how his body develops and how he adapts to the learning curve. Luckily for the Illini, they could also use Jalen Coleman-Lands at the lead guard spot next season.
It could take some time for Lucas to adjust, but he'll be a nice piece to have when it's all said and done. The Illini have been criticized in the past for overlooking some solid point guard targets, but they didn't make that mistake with Lucas.
Groce and his staff have worked tirelessly to land a Big Ten quality point guard, and those efforts have finally been rewarded.