Illini hoops 2017 class in-state outlook

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper gives an updated outlook on 2017 in-state targets and where the Illini stand.

Da'Monte Williams

School: Peoria Manual
Position:
Combo guard
Ranking: No. 37 in 2017 (4-star)

Season update

Williams leads the 12-2 Rams, who fell at the Highland Shootout on Saturday against Father Tolton and 5-star 2017 forward Michael Porter Jr. (No. 4 overall). Williams finished with 18 points in the defeat. The key for him continues to be consistent aggressiveness. He showed that at the Proviso West holiday tournament, as he dropped 37 points in the semifinals on New Year's Eve.

Where he's at in the process

Williams is taking everything in stride, and he admits that he hasn't focused that much on recruiting recently. There hasn't been too much new with him on that front since the end of the AAU season. Most people still believe he will make his decision sooner than most in the class - and that could be this spring.

Top contenders

Illinois, Indiana & Kansas

Where Illini stand

The Illini have been right at the top with Williams for some time. John Groce and his staff have positioned themselves well with the important people in Williams' camp. It helps that Frank Williams is actively recruiting his son to Champaign. Da'Monte Williams visited the State Farm Center last month, which is the only visit he has taken this year. Indiana assistant Rob Judson is trying to lay groundwork, and that could prove to be valuable if Groce is gone after this season. Kansas has a placeholder spot as a top contender if they decide to enter the ring. For now, Illinois is the logical destination. But they have to find a way to close, and that is unlikely to happen until Groce has a solidified future.

Jordan Goodwin

School: Belleville Althoff
Position: Small forward
Ranking: No. 72 in 2017 (4-star)

Season update

Goodwin's stock is soaring with how he's playing on the hardwood this season. He has Althoff riding high with a 12-2 record and the top ranking in 3A. Goodwin is averaging more than 18 points and eight rebounds per game, and he posted 23 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday at the Highland Shootout. That came against his former St. Louis Eagles teammates Jayson Tatum (Duke commit) and Tyler Cook (Iowa commit).

Where he's at in the process

Goodwin was close to pulling the trigger on a commitment this fall. But he was advised to wait it out instead. Like Da'Monte Williams, Goodwin figures to be one target who is likely to decide long before the fall signing period. Things are at a bit of a standstill now, though.

Top contenders

Illinois, Missouri & Purdue

Where Illini stand

The Illini staff believes they almost closed the deal in the fall. They had momentum rolling with Goodwin, who named Illinois his leader after visiting in June. That figures to be the same at this moment, but once again, Groce's status puts a wrinkle in the plans. Purdue makes a lot of sense based on their recent success and style of play. Missouri has been coming at him hard, and they will be in it until the end. Right now, it appears Goodwin is being pulled in different directions.

Jeremiah Tilmon

School: La Lumiere
Position: Center
Ranking: No. 17 in 2017 (5-star)

Season update

After a move from East St. Louis, Tilmon is part of one of the best programs in the country. La Lumiere is 14-3 on the season and ranked No. 17 in the USA Today Sports' Super 25 rankings. Tilmon starred at the Cancer Research Classic on Jan. 2, as he posted 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks. He also scored the game-winning bucket with four seconds left on the clock.

Where he's at in the process

Tilmon hasn't seemed to be in any rush with the process, as more options have piled up. He just picked up offers from North Carolina and Texas last month. Tilmon appeared likely to play out the AAU season this summer and begin to take official visits in the fall. But there has been buzz that he could expedite things quicker than most envisioned. Tilmon's mom has expressed in the past that she doesn't want it to be a lengthy process.

Top contenders

Kansas, North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri

Where Illini stand

The best way for the Illini to have a shot with Tilmon is to establish a strong 2017 class prior to his commitment. Adding Goodwin and Da'Monte Williams would greatly help their cause. But even then, there is no guarantee that he ends up in Champaign. Kansas looks like the biggest threat right now, and North Carolina has the pedigree to draw that kind of talent. Michigan State could also be a factor, as Tom Izzo watched Tilmon and Brian Bowen last week. That paints a scary picture for the Illini in this race. But if Tilmon decides to speed things up, that does play into Illinois' favor given their long-standing relationship and the fact that he said last month that Illinois "feels like home".

Javon Pickett

School: Belleville East
Position: Wing
Ranking: 3-star

Season update

After raising eyebrows at the end of the AAU season, Pickett has been lighting the high school scene on fire with 26 points and nine rebounds per game. He scored 32 points in front of Groce last month. Pickett carries a heavy load for Belleville East, who is 10-4 on the season. He doesn't look like he will be an unranked prospect for long.

Where he's at in the process

The recruiting process is still a long way from its peak - if Pickett plays it out through the AAU season. Seven months ago, he didn't have a D-1 offer to his name. More schools are taking notice now, and he will surely blow up this summer if he stays at this pace. The Illini look to be the one school who could end this one early.

Top contenders

Illinois, Cincinnati, Northwestern

Where Illini stand

The Illini have done a great job to stand out in this recruitment. They got in early and they have made Pickett a big priority along with other in-state targets. It also helps that Malcolm Hill played at Belleville East and for the same AAU team (SW Illinois Jets). Illinois is the team to beat if they play their cards right.

Nojel Eastern

School: Evanston Township
Position: Combo guard
Ranking: No. 50 in 2017 (4-star)

Season update

Eastern is back in action after missing the entire summer with a dislocated ankle. He has Evanston Township at 12-2, and he was an all-tournament selection at the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic last month. Eastern has struggled with his outside shot since returning, but he still makes a big impact as a 6-foot-6 point guard.

Where he's at in the process

Missing essentially all of the AAU season threw a curveball in Eastern's recruitment. He is still taking things slow at this moment. Eastern has drawn interest from many high-level programs, and he is likely to blow up in a big way this summer.

Top contenders

Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern, Duke

Where Illini stand

Eastern has been a target for the Illini as long as any of their 2017 prospects. Illinois extended an offer in July 2014, which was the same time they offered Tilmon. Eastern visited Champaign the following month, and he has stayed in frequent contact with the Illini since then. Michigan State was Eastern's most recent visit destination. The Spartans have been a big factor in this one. Northwestern is trying to keep Eastern in his hometown, while Duke has kept their eyes on him as well. Ohio State was in to see him last week too.

Christian Negron

School: Larkin
Position: Power forward
Ranking: 3-star

Season update

Negron has really impressed this season as he builds off his great athleticism, length and motor. The 6-foot-6 forward has blocked more than five shots per game this year, which is a product of his 7-foot-2 wingspan. Negron showed out at the Chicago Elite Classic last month, as he posted 20 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in a win over East St. Louis.

Where he's at in the process

It is still relatively early for Negron on the recruiting front. But he has taken a few visits, including ones to Butler and Iowa. Negron picked up an offer from Butler last week. He has a few nice options right now, and he should pick up more when he hits the 17U EYBL circuit this summer.

Top contenders

Iowa, Illinois, Butler

Where Illini stand

Illinois beat the other top competitors to the punch with an offer back in April 2015. But they have yet to get him on campus. Negron grew up as an Illini fan and he said this summer that he thinks the program is going in the right direction. The Orange and Blue figure to be a big player here - they just need to get him down to Champaign.

Justin Smith

School: Stevenson
Position: Small forward
Ranking: 3-star

Season update

Smith has been productive in his newfound role without Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw on the roster. He has been expected to become a go-to scorer and a leader on a young Stevenson (9-4) team. The 6-foot-7 forward has shown an ability to rebound and block shots. But Smith is most known for offensive game, and he went off for 32 points in a game last month.

Where he's at in the process

Smith's recruitment is picking up with more schools jumping in the mix. He has had a number of coaches come to watch him this season. Illinois assistant Paris Parham watched him last month. Marquette, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Xavier are among the programs that have been in to see him as well. If Smith plays up to his potential on the EYBL circuit this summer, he will have no shortage of options.

Top contenders

Indiana, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Villanova

Where Illini stand

Illinois got in early with an offer and they hosted him on a visit this past summer. The Illini have stayed in contact, but they haven't pursued him as hard as some other in-state targets. Indiana looks to be in the driver's seat at this moment. Smith went to the Assembly Hall for Hoosier Hysteria in the fall, and he was there on Sunday to see Indiana defeat Ohio State. Smith recently mentioned Indiana, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Villanova and Michigan State as schools that he is talking to the most.


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