The Illinois basketball staff continues to look for down low talent, and they have quietly made 2017 big man Theo John a big priority.
John is ranked No. 79 in the class rankings by Scout, and he is considered the best 2017 prospect in Minnesota not named Gary Trent Jr. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound power forward possesses superb strength and athleticism, while specializing on the defensive end and on the glass.
The Illini extended an offer to John at the end of June, and assistant coach Paris Parham travelled up to Champlin, Minn. on Monday to see him at open gym.
“It’s been good. I’ve been learning a little bit more about their program,” John said. “Got to talk to Coach Parham a little bit more (Monday) night. He’s a good guy, love talking to him and learning more about Illinois basketball.”
Parham watched John frequently during July, and he is the lead recruiter for him and other targets up north. John said their relationship has grown quite a bit over the last few months.
“I really like talking to him,” he said. “We talked a little bit about what he wants to see me work on—strengths and weaknesses. So I got to pick his brain a little bit from that. Also talked about what my role would be for his team.”
Based on the current landscape, John could have a pretty sizable role if he decided to jump on board in the 2017 class. Leron Black and Michael Finke are the only frontcourt players on the current roster who are set to be in an Illini uniform for the 2017-18 season.
The Illini love John’s physicality, and they feel he can be a bruising big that you’d typically see at Michigan State. His athleticism and motor make him a key target in this class.
“It seems like I’m highly valued by them,” John said. “I would like to think that I’m one of their top prospects, but got to keep working to maintain that.”
John added that he would like to visit Champaign in the near future.
“Yeah, hopefully. If it works with my schedule,” he said. “I’d love to go down there for a visit.”
John visited Creighton, Marquette, Minnesota and Wisconsin back in the spring. Currently, he holds a handful of offers, including four from the Big Ten: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Living in Big Ten country, John is honored by the opportunities that those programs have presented.
“It’s a blessing to know those great organizations have interest in me,” he said. “It’s also motivation to keep the interest and see how far I can go.”
For now, John is focused on putting in work in the gym. It’s no secret that he needs to diversify his offensive game, which starts with developing his jumper.
“I’ve been working on my shot a lot,” John said. “Having attention to detail with everything I’m doing. I’m breaking it down, seeing what things are good and bad, and trying to be the best play I can be.”
John is working to be a stretch four at the next level, and his frame certainly fits that mold. You know what you’re getting when he is on the floor. John will play as hard as anyone on the court, he isn’t afraid of contact and he will make a difference in the paint on defense. At the other end, he’ll throw it down with authority given the opportunity.
“I’ve got a high motor. I love defense. I take it personally when someone scores on me,” John said. “I’m a great team player and if you need me to, I can put it in the hole.”
John averaged 4.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game on the EYBL circuit during the AAU season. He said it was a good experience and something he can grow from in the future.
“I believe overall it was a pretty good summer. I showed my defense, my rebounding and my athletic ability,” John said. “Also showed my heart for the game. Coaches have been telling me all about it and how they saw it.”
“It was also a wakeup call because there are bigger dudes and better dudes, so it’s motivation to work hard and try to be the best you can be.”
John Groce and his staff will keep a close eye on John going forward, and Illini fans should do the same.