Over the next two weeks, lead basketball reporter Derek Piper is breaking down 10 of Illinois basketball's top recruits with their updated scouting report, what they have to prove this spring on the AAU circuit and where the Illini stand with them.
Today: Christian Negron, undersized four Larkin HS (Ill.)
Larkin forward Christian Negron took his game up another level during his junior season.
The athletic undersized-four was extremely productive with 16.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per game. Negron's impact as a two-way player earned him a Class 4A second-team selection by the Associated Press.
He will be a headliner on the Mac Irvin Fire during the AAU season with Illini commit Da'Monte Williams, who kick things off this weekend at the NY2LA Swish 'n Dish event in the Milwaukee area.
The first two things that stand out about Negron are his athleticism and his motor. He runs the floor well and he can sky above the rim. His physical tools allow him to make plays all over the court. And Negron is all over the court. He has a super high motor, as he plays with relentless energy. Negron also sports a 7-foot-2 wingspan, which allows him to play bigger than his size. Even though he stands at just 6-foot-7, he is a superb rebounder and he can block shots due to his long arms.
Offensively, Negron is still a work in progress. But he took some big strides during the high school season. Negron extended his range beyond the three-point line. He can also hit the mid-range jumper. The key for him is to continue to build consistency with his shot. He also needs to add more strength to frame.
What he has to prove this spring
Coaches will be watching closely to see how consistently he can hit open shots. He will get looks in the mid-range off of guard penetration. Negron needs to show that he can knock those down at a high rate, and also show versatility with a pump fake and drive to the hoop. He'll also have the opportunity to show how much his game benefits from added range beyond the arc. If he is successful with these aspects, Negron will have plenty more programs looking to get involved.
How he'd fit at Illinois
You can never have too much length and athleticism. The Illini need to build their frontcourt for the future. Negron would be a very nice piece to add into that mix. He can rebound, defend and make some plays at the offensive end. Negron has many attributes that John Groce has been looking for - especially with a want to play uptempo, attacking basketball.
Where Illinois stands
Negron was one of five 2017 in-state targets to receive an offer from the Illini late last April. He was ecstatic after getting the call from Groce. Negron said that Illinois was "one of my dream schools".
The Illini tracked Negron closely throughout last summer on the 16U EYBL circuit. Assistant coach Paris Parham was at nearly every single game during the live periods to watch Negron and Williams. Illinois watched him numerous times during the high school season as well.
Negron took his first visit to Champaign in January for a game at the State Farm Center. The Illini fell to Nebraska, but Negron was excited about the visit.
"I was really just excited to get out here," he said. "I think the atmosphere is really underrated. The fans are really into the game and that's nice to see."
Illinois has made it clear that he is a top priority on their radar.
"They say they like the way I'm playing, and that they're going to keep contacting me and keep being aggressive," Negron said back in January. "They've been pretty active."
The Illini will continue that pursuit when the live periods begin in a few weeks. They will likely try to get Negron back on campus in the near future as well.
Illinois was Negron's first high-major offer, and they have put themselves in a good position. Negron said last summer that Illinois was one of his top two choices at the time. The Illini remain in that top group.
Sizing up the competition
Iowa has been a big player in this recruitment, and they got Negron on campus for a visit last fall. The Hawkeyes may have held a slight edge since that visit. Negron talked about them back in January.
"Honestly, Iowa has probably been the most active. They've been in and out of our gym," Negron said. "I haven't been up there since September, but I've been texting them back and forth a lot."
Illinois and Iowa have cemented their spots at the top. Butler has also worked their way into the conversation. The Bulldogs offered Negron a scholarship back in January, and they also got him on campus for a visit.
"The atmosphere at Hinkle Fieldhouse was great. I really like the coaching staff," Negron said. "I like the way they play."
Those aren't a bad trio of programs. And if Negron impresses on the 17U circuit this spring and summer, you can bet that more schools will come calling.