Four-star junior guard Da'Monte Williams has Peoria Manual ready for what could be another signature run in the state tournament.
The Rams (21-4) are the No. 4 team in Class 3A, and they will begin state tournament play on March 1 at Washington High School as the top seed in their regional.
Banners hang in the Manual gym to showcase the program's glory days in the mid-'90s. Williams is often compared to his father, Frank Williams, who played a big part in putting up two of the four consecutive state title banners from 1994-97.
Frank Williams was a junior the last time Manual brought home the first place trophy, as seniors and future Illini teammates Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin made for an All-State trio.
Manual doesn't have anything close to that kind of talent depth now, but then again, this state hasn't seen anything like that since. What they do have is one of the best guards in the state, and a few surrounding pieces.
Da'Monte Williams talked about his team's March outlook after a 71-44 win at Urbana on Friday night.
"I think we'll be pretty good. We still got some work to do," he said. "We're going to put in the time in the gym and knock it out."
Friday was a good reminder of what Manual needs to be ready for down the road. Urbana elected to go box-and-one on Da'Monte Williams, which took him completely out of rhythm for most of the game.
Da'Monte Williams had just two points at halftime, and he finished with eight points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field. The lowly Urbana Tigers were able to keep it close in the first half, but Manual ultimately blew it open. Still, they provided a challenge that deserved some notice.
"It was very challenging because they packed in the lane. You know I like to get in the lane," Da'Monte Williams said. "I just got to keep moving without the ball when teams do that on me and I'll get open."
While Friday was a beneficial learning lesson, it was also an opportunity to appreciate what Da'Monte Williams can do in addition to scoring. Along with his eight points, he finished with six rebounds, five steals, three assists and three blocks. Not a bad off-night for most.
"I'm just focused on staying in attack mode and doing whatever it is for my team so we can win," he said.
Going as far as possible in the bracket is going to be at the forefront of Da'Monte Williams' mind. But in less than a month, the season will be over. That will turn the focus to recruiting, and there could be some big moves on the horizon.
It's no secret that Da'Monte Williams is the prime candidate to join Javon Pickett in the 2017 class with a commitment - possibly as early as this spring.
"Recruiting is going pretty well," Da'Monte Williams said. "I'm hearing from Illinois a lot, and a couple other schools."
Da'Monte Williams visited the State Farm Center for a game back in December, and he said that he hopes he can get back before the season is over. Illinois' final home games are on Thursday (Indiana) and Sunday (Minnesota).
"I'll get back down there," he said. "I just don't know when. But I'll definitely get back down there."
As for other visits, Da'Monte Williams said there are no others on the radar. In general, there isn't a lot of competition for the Illini in this recruitment right now - outside of Indiana.
Da'Monte Williams said conversations with the Illini staff have been good recently.
"We're just talking about life in general instead of always talking about basketball," he said.
John Groce and Paris Parham aren't the only ones who has been talking about Illinois with Da'Monte Williams. Just last week, five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon gave him a call to talk about some possibilities.
Da'Monte Williams downplayed it being a big deal, but he talked about the conversation.
"We just talked about what schools we wanted to go to. It wasn't anything major," he said. "But we stay in touch."
That communication has picked up in the last week or two.
"Our relationship is getting there. It's not there already. We just started texting recently," Da'Monte Williams said. "We're looking to get a good relationship and hopefully go to school together."
How big would that be? Tilmon (No. 10) and Da'Monte Williams (No. 45) are the top two in-state products in the 2017 Scout rankings. Belleville Althoff wing Jordan Goodwin (No. 74) has a good relationship with both prospects as well.
"I talk to Goodwin, but it hasn't been recently though," Da'Monte Williams said.
One of the major keys is Groce's status beyond this season. It will be up to newly-hired AD Josh Whitman to determine that. Analyzing this season and the outlook for next season are important, but the potential in the 2017 class is a huge factor as well.
Big decisions are coming.