Big news was in store for the Illini basketball program on Sunday night, as Peoria Manual junior guard Da'Monte Williams announced his commitment to the home-state program.
Williams toured the Illinois campus with his parents on Sunday afternoon, and they sat down with John Groce and the staff afterwards. That is when the four-star combo guard gave the word that he was on board.
"It just felt like it was the place for me to be. It feels like home," Williams told Illini Inquirer on Sunday.
The son of former Illini great Frank Williams has been a must-get target on the recruiting radar, and now, he is one of the signature additions during Groce's tenure.
What Illinois is getting
The Illini are getting an athletic combo guard with plenty of offensive skill and overall upside at the next level. According to the Scout.com 2017 class rankings, Da'Monte Williams is the third best guard in the Midwest and the No. 45 player overall in the country.
He has a natural ability to score, and he does so in a variety of ways. Da'Monte Williams can take it to the hoop off the bounce, splash threes from beyond the arc and create his own shot with a pull-up jumper. He makes others better as well. Da'Monte Williams has very good court vision and passing ability. He can play on the ball or off, which brings a valuable amount of versatility.
Da'Monte Williams plays point guard for Manual, and he has done the same at the AAU level. At this point in his development, he is likely a more natural fit as an off-guard in the Big Ten realm. He needs to tighten up his handle, especially against pressure, to be a legit lead guard. But Da'Monte Williams can play that position in spots, and he has proven to be well-versed in the pick 'n roll.
The biggest critique of Da'Monte Williams' game is his inconsistent assertiveness. He is an unselfish player, but that can be to a fault. He also possesses a laid back demeanor, and many would like to see him play with more competitive fire. But the pure talent is undeniable, and he has a high ceiling when he reaches his full potential.
What it means for Illinois
The 2017 class is the key to the future for the Illini staff, and they just landed one of the in-state headliners on Sunday. Da'Monte Williams is not only a promising talent, but he is a name that resonates across the state.
He has become good friends with five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon. He talks with Belleville Althoff stud Jordan Goodwin. He is an AAU teammate of athletic forward Christian Negron on the Mac Irvin Fire. That can only help Illinois' sell to those guys moving ahead.
On another level, Da'Monte Williams is a selling point for Groce and his staff to remain in Champaign. Odds pointed towards Groce returning next season anyway, but this commitment adds some insurance. Da'Monte Williams is a much-needed breath of fresh air during a difficult season. Illini fans will evaluate misfortunes and missteps as they wish. But the hope for the future quickly becomes real again.
Recruiting misses in the past soured some to hype. They'd rather not take another letdown. But the Illini are currently sitting with one of the best starts of any in the 2017 class. Javon Pickett got the ball rolling, and adding Da'Monte Williams takes that momentum to another level. The class Illinois set out for - one of home-run magnitude - is officially an attainable goal.
The focus turns directly to Tilmon and Goodwin, who are the difference between a good start and an earthquake felt across Illini nation. Tilmon didn't hold back on Sunday night in telling Illini Inquirer that Da'Monte Williams' commitment helps Illinois' pitch to him immensely.
The two have formed a bond over the last few weeks, and there have been some rumblings underneath the surface. Many people in the know believe that Illinois is in a very good spot with Tilmon. But there is a difference between being in a very good spot and closing the deal - especially when you're talking about a top-10 player in the class who is being pursued by blue bloods.
That being said, Illinois has a number of reasons to feel good. As with Da'Monte Williams, the staff has built a long-standing relationship with Tilmon. They are particularly in good graces with Tilmon's mom. In addition, they can offer an opportunity to shine from Day One and play alongside a potentially great class of incoming freshmen. The big questions are how long Tilmon plans to play out the process and how hard other programs will push.
As for Goodwin, he has said that he currently plans to showcase his talents on the AAU circuit before making a move. The only focus on his mind at this point in time is winning a state championship. After that, he would like to see his recruitment blossom over the spring and summer. The Illini seem to be the one team at this juncture who could expedite those plans. If they continued the momentum with a pledge from Tilmon in the coming weeks or months, then Goodwin would seem like a slam dunk.
Of course, that is just a hypothetical scenario for now. It's up to Groce and his staff to find a way to see it through. While it shouldn't downgrade the accomplishment or their value, Da'Monte Williams and Pickett were the most gettable of Illinois' top targets. Now, we'll see if the Illini can reel in some tougher catches.