An exhale and a smile was in order for Illinois head coach John Groce on Wednesday, as he locked up a commitment from four-star point guard Te’Jon Lucas.
Groce finally closed the book on a string of misfortune with high-level point guards. The Illini have been searching for a Big Ten quality playmaker, and they got one in Lucas.
Known for his great decision making on the court, Lucas knew that Illinois was the right choice for him.
“I basically just felt it in my gut,” Lucas said. “Illinois has all the right things. It has good academics and my family is real close. I have a lot of family in Milwaukee so they’ll be able to catch a lot of my games. I just felt it was the best situation for me. They play the same kind of ballgame that I play with pick ‘n roll, and getting up and down the floor.”
Lucas is considered one of the best pure playmakers in the 2016 class with his vision, savvy and passing ability. He is a perfect fit in Groce’s ball-screen offense and he’ll make the surrounding group of talent even better when he’s on the court.
“They have a great group of guys. I got to see them practice when I went down there for an unofficial visit,” Lucas said. “I feel like we can do great things with me added to the roster, and even now, I think they can be contenders and do a lot of good things.”
A productive point guard may be the missing piece for Groce and his system. Lucas can be that, and Groce was thrilled when Lucas told him that he’s on board.
“He was extremely excited,” Lucas said. “He said welcome to the family and that I made a great decision. We’re basically family now.”
Groce and assistant Paris Parham put the finishing touches on their pitch to Lucas last week during an in-home visit. They made it known that he was a top priority and it was his opportunity to take.
“It was pretty big. I got to sit down with Coach Groce and talk face-to-face with him. He was real nice and he got to talk with my mom, my dad and my AAU coach,” Lucas said. “So we all got to bond a little bit and see the personality of Coach Groce. He is a great person and Coach (Parham) is a great person.”
Lucas made his choice between Illinois, Old Dominion and USC, but other schools tried to push their way into the mix as well. A source told IlliniInquirer.com earlier this week that Butler, Cal, Texas and Wisconsin were among the programs hoping to become players for Lucas.
“Other schools started coming on because it’s like a domino effect. Once one point guard commits, then other schools are going to jump on and try to get another,” Lucas said. "Basically, I knew a few weeks ago who my final three was and I wasn’t going to accept anybody after that when I knew who I wanted.”
Based on recent history, the Illini fan base should love that kind of loyalty and character. They should also love the way Lucas has continued to elevate his game. He was one of the biggest stock risers in July, as he proved to be one of the top point guards in the Midwest.
“In July, I basically just showed that I deserved and earned everything I got. I was playing at the Top 100 Camp in June and showed I belonged there. I showed coaches that I can compete with the top guys,” Lucas said. “I separated myself with my high IQ, seeing the floor and making my team better. We didn’t have the most talented team here in Milwaukee, but I just wanted to win and lead my team.”
Illinois and others saw Lucas put that on display on the AAU circuit. He could have opened things up to a handful of additional high-major programs. But when it was all said and done, Lucas knew he wanted to be an Illini guy.
“I just had that feeling that Illinois is the place I need to be,” he said. “I just felt it inside that I need to be playing at the University of Illinois.”
Listen to Lucas on the "Tay and J Show" on ESPN Radio 93.5 in Champaign: