Heading into the first live recruiting period, 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: Theo John, post Champlin Park Senior (Minn.)
The Illini are trying to become a major player with four-star 2017 big man Theo John up in Champlin Park, Minn.
John averaged 13.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game during his junior campaign. One of the biggest challenges in the 2017 class for John Groce is to bolster the frontcourt with a player that can add strength, athleticism, rebounding and defensive capabilities.
John fits that bill, and that's why Illinois extended an offer last June. But they won't have an easy road to land him. John is coming off an official visit at Oklahoma last weekend.
John is not a prototypical center at 6-foot-9, but his athleticism and physicality make him a great defender, rebounder and finisher in the paint. He rocks the rim often in highlight fashion with his strength and bounce. John has an improving back-to-the-basket game, and finding more ways to score is a key to his progression. He has shown great potential in the pick 'n roll with his mobility and knack for positioning himself off the action. John also creates offense on the glass with putback lay-ins and slams.
But the physical big man takes far more pride at the other end of the floor. John sees himself as a defensive stopper with his strong frame and ability to block shots. He grinds at that end of the floor with the determination to keep his guy from scoring. John will help on slashing guards, and he cleans the defensive glass very well. His motor is as high as any on the floor too.
"I've got a high motor. I love defense. I take it personally when someone scores on me," John told IlliniInquirer.com last fall. "I'm a great team player, and if you need me to, I can put it in the hole."
What he has to prove this spring
John has to show that his offensive game has improved. He averaged 4.9 points per game during EYBL play last AAU season, and now he has an opportunity to prove that he's made big strides in that area. That will be a big factor in whether he lands more offers. In addition, John has to show that he can hang with the top centers on the circuit - including some that will have size and length on him. If he can be a defensive stopper in a setting that promotes offense, his stock will rise even more.
How he'd fit at Illinois
The center position is undoubtedly the biggest area of need on the Illini depth chart going forward. At this moment, Michael Finke is the only center candidate on the 2017-18 roster outlook. Finke is offensively skilled, and he is working to add more strength. But there's no question the Illini need an infusion of strength and athleticism at that position to battle on the glass and defend. John would be a great fit to fill that need.
Where Illinois stands
The Illini have made John a significant priority since they offered back in July. Illinois assistant coach Paris Parham watched him closely during the evaluation periods, and he visited him back in October. Parham also watched him in January the night before the Illini won in overtime at Minnesota.
John has developed a good relationship with Parham, and he has felt like an important target on the Illinois radar.
"I really like talking to him," John told IlliniInquirer.com in October. "It seems like I'm highly valued by them. I would like to think that I'm one of their top prospects, but got to keep working to maintain that."
John talked more about the Illini after Parham watched him during the season.
"I think they are a great school with a really good basketball program," he said.
John added that he would like to get to Champaign for a visit, but he isn't sure when that will take place. He has already visited Creighton, Marquette, Minnesota and Wisconsin for unofficials, and he is coming off an official at Oklahoma.
Luckily for the Illini, John did not commit on the trip. But Illinois needs to get him in town to become a real threat in this race.
Sizing up the competition
Oklahoma got in the mix back in March with an offer after Lon Kruger visited John at Champlin Park. The Sooners have figured to be the favorites since then, and John was impressed by the experience in Norman last weekend.
"From this weekend, it just kind of had that standard," John told Sooners Illustrated. "The bar was kind of set. It was first official. So, now I know what to expet if I go on any other officials. I'll have something to compare them to."
John added that his parents had a great time on the visit and really bonded with the former Illini head coach.
"They loved it," John said. "They got to spend a lot of time with the coaches and the coaches' family. Saturday, we went up to Coach Lon's house, and it's huge. He lives on a farm. My mom got to be with the horses and stuff."
In addition to offers from Illinois and Oklahoma, John has offers from Iowa, Kansas State, Marquette, Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas Tech.