Illini head coach John Groce has been anxiously waiting for that first domino to fall in the loaded 2017 class, and he finally got it with a commitment from Belleville East wing Javon Pickett on Saturday.
"I just felt like it was the right time. I knew that I've wanted to go there for a while now," Pickett said. "Since I was younger, I always wanted to go there."
Pickett gives Illinois an athletic scorer with a ton of upside and versatility. Just seven months ago, Pickett didn't have a D-1 offer to his name. Now, he is lighting up the high school scene with 24 points and nine rebounds per game.
Pickett gave his pledge after watching the Illini square off with Nebraska at the State Farm Center, where the Illinois fell 78-67 to the Huskers. The 6-foot-4 wing was also in attendance for Illinois' home opener against Notre Dame last month.
"I feel like it's a great fit for me," Pickett said. "I've got a great bond with the coaches. I'm cool with some of the players. Just to be able to rep my homestate."
The downstate product is playing at the same high school as Illini forward Malcolm Hill once did, and they come from the same AAU program (SW Illinois Jets) as well. Hill is third in the Big Ten in points per game, and his success certainly played a big factor with Pickett. He said he has a close relationship with Hill, who has been pushing hard for him to follow that same path to Champaign.
That isn't the only important Belleville connection that comes along with Pickett. He is very close with fellow 2017 target Jordan Goodwin, who is right at the top of the priority list for the Illini. Pickett told IlliniInquirer.com that he has talked with Goodwin often about teaming up at Illinois.
Pickett believes he can be the start that Groce and this staff need to kick-start a monumental class.
"With the class, I figured I'd be the one to make the jump and be able to bring in some more great players," Pickett said. "We can build a great thing there with my class. It can be great. I think this class can take us far."
Pickett added that his first move is going to be convincing Goodwin and five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon to come along for the ride.
"That's one of the reasons that I did it. I'm trying to encourage some other players to go ahead and commit with me so we can build an empire at Illinois and take it far."
"I'm going to hit up Jordan and we're going to talk about it. I already talked to Jeremiah about it earlier. I'm feeling good about it and I'm hoping that they come along with me."
Stay tuned to IlliniInquirer.com for more.