Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper breaks down how the Illini are trending with their top targets.
The April evaluation periods have come and gone, as Illini head coach John Groce and his staff hit the AAU circuit across the map.
Coaches will have to wait until July for their next chance to see their top targets in action. But May is an important month in terms of restructuring the priority list, setting up some visits for this summer and continuing to fight as things heat up.
Illinois is also in a position with scholarships up in the air, and they've worked hard to give themselves a few options to fill those potential holes. Mr. Basketball winner Charlie Moore has been a primary focus since the Illini entered the mix after his decommitment from Memphis.
Here is a look at which direction Illinois is trending with a number of targets.
The Illini made the cut for Moore's top eight last Wednesday
after Groce and Paris Parham visited him at Morgan Park the week prior. Eight schools are formally still in the mix, but Illinois is on an even shorter list when you consider the top contenders. Moore told IlliniInquirer.com
that he is open to playing alongside four-star point guard signee Te'Jon Lucas
, and he added that it's highly possible he'll visit Champaign in the coming weeks. Illinois is the one program that can offer a chance for Moore to stay close to his family in Chicago, and the staff has a longstanding relationship with him. They're likely one of three or four major players at this time. One of those also appears to be LSU, who will host Moore for an official visit on Wednesday - per Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports.
Groce and assistant Dustin Ford had an in-home visit with Trent Frazier
last month. The Illini have established a great position with the four-star point guard from the Sunshine State. Frazier's high school coach, Matt Colin, told IlliniInquirer.com
that there is a a strong bond and important trust factor between Frazier and Ford. Frazier is an intriguing prospect with his natural ability to score and operate off the high ball-screen. Illinois has outworked the competition to this point, but the Gators are in the mix as well.
There was worry that Champlin Park (Minn.) big man Theo John
was going to pull the trigger on his official visit to Oklahoma last month. But John left Norman without a commitment, which was big news for the Illini. Groce and Parham visited John during the contact period two weeks ago. John told IlliniInquirer.com that he feels like one of Illinois' top targets, and he is strongly considering an official visit to Champaign in the fall. The Illini would like to get him on campus even sooner than that, even if it's just for an unofficial. Momentum is key in recruiting, and Illinois is trying to play this one just right. Oklahoma was considered the leader - and that could still be the case - but momentum fades as time passes from the end of an official visit.
There wasn't much Illini buzz about Nojel Eastern
last summer and during the high school season. Eastern missed all of the summer with an ankle injury, and the 2017 talk during the season focused more on others in the state. But Illinois continued their pursuit of Eastern, and they watched him multiple times in February. Groce and Parham visited Eastern and his mom last month during the contact period at Evanston. Eastern told IlliniInquirer.com
that it was a great visit and that it "got me thinking about them a lot". The Illini were his first high-major offer, and they continue to grab his attention, they could be one of his official visits in the fall.
Illinois wants more athleticism and rebounding ability in their frontcourt, and they have prioritized Larkin forward Christian Negron. It was big for the Illini to get Negron on campus during January for a game at the State Farm Center. He also visited Butler, Indiana and Iowa during the season. Groce and Parham visited Negron a few weeks ago. Illini commit Da'Monte Williams has also been in Negron's ear on the AAU circuit with the Mac Irvin Fire.
The Illini loved what they saw from athletic power forward Mayan Kiir during the first evaluation period last month on the adidas circuit. Ford visited Kiir down in Florida the next week, and he watched him closely in Atlanta the following weekend. Illinois extended an offer, and they join a short list of options at this very moment. "I heard Illinois has a good position for me and that I really fit how they play," Kiir told Scout.com.
Illinois has maintained a great relationship with Jordan Goodwin
- coupled by a strong pursuit. Goodwin told IlliniInquirer.com
that he had a one-on-one meeting with Groce during the contact period, and that their connection continues to grow. He said he loves that Groce is "already coaching me". But the competition for Goodwin is heating up in a hurry, as he dominated during the evaluation periods. Goodwin has added a wave of offers, including ones from Cal, Michigan State, Texas and UCONN. This won't be an easy chase.
The Illini made a great impression on Milwaukee Riverside wing Terrence Lewis
when he and his parents came to Champaign for a visit at the end of March. Lewis told IlliniInquirer.com that he felt "very blessed" to have the opportunity at Illinois to play in the Big Ten. He added that he wants to get back for a visit over the summer. Parham visited Lewis in Milwaukee during the contact period. Iowa State has been a big player as well, and other programs are showing high interest. Oregon visited Lewis during the contact period too.
After what was seen as a mutual cooling after last summer, Illinois has begun to turn things back up with Stevenson forward Justin Smith. The Illini watched him frequently during the evaluation periods last month, and they saw him a few times during the high school season as well. Smith has recently mentioned Illinois as one of the programs he is hearing from most, which wasn't the case just a few months ago. But it remains to be seen if the Illini will be a big player when all is said and done. Many programs are involved in this race, and Smith added offers from Iowa State, Villanova and Xavier last month.
If Illinois doesn't land Moore to close out the 2016 class, there's no question they want a point guard in 2017. Champlin Park (Minn.) point guard McKinley Wright fits right into that mix. Illinois was the first program to offer Wright last summer. Parham watched him and John in January, and he also visited Wright a few weeks ago up in Minnesota. The Illini want to get Wright on campus this summer, and they could be a big player if they turn up the heat.
Illinois certainly has their eyes on Minnesota for the 2017 class, and athletic forward Jericho Sims has solidified his spot on the priority list. Sims picked up an offer from the Illini after the first evaluation period last month. DePaul, Iowa State, Kansas State and Minnesota also offered. Parham visited Sims during his trip to Minnesota a few weeks ago. Expect the Illini to keep up their pursuit. But more teams are going to notice Sims as well. He's recently picked up offers from Florida and Texas.
It's not that Illinois has done anything wrong in their pursuit of five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon
. Groce and Jamall Walker had an in-home visit with Tilmon's mom on April 20, and they also visited Tilmon at La Lumiere on the same day. But the rhetoric has changed around this recruitment. Many sources considered Illinois to be in closing position at the beginning of March, but that is no longer the case. Kansas and North Carolina have turned up the heat, and their visits with Tilmon were the ones that stuck out the most. Momentum shifts in recruiting, and there's no saying that it couldn't shift back to Illinois' side. But this recruitment is taking the shape of what was originally assumed with Tilmon. They'll have to fight the big boys, and Tilmon told IlliniInquirer.com
that he wants to take a number of campus visits.
Despite rumblings from many in the Illini fan base, Simeon point guard Evan Gilyard
still doesn't have an Illinois offer. In fact, no high-major programs jumped on board with an offer during the evaluation periods. Dayton still looks like the best fit for Gilyard at this time, and the longer others wait, the more they get to further their position.
Even though Alonzo Verge can be electric with the ball in his hands, there are more questions than answers with his situation right now. There's a reason no programs are turning things up with Verge, including the Illini.
Groce visited five-star wing Kris Wilkes during the contact period a few weeks ago. But the Indianapolis native is nothing short of a long shot for the Illini.
Like Wilkes, Paul Scruggs doesn't appear to be a likely option for Illinois.