Piper mailbag: April 18

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper answers all of your Illini hoops and recruiting questions in the latest mailbag.

When will we know something definitive on Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate?

The legal process will determine that. Both will have their pretrial hearings on Wednesday this week.

Besides Tilmon, who do the Illini have the best shot at landing in terms of a big?

Seems like we are putting all our eggs in the Tilman basket with respect to a big for 2017. Could you address other potential 5's that the staff are pursuing?

If you consider Christian Negron a big, then I will go with him. But if you mean a player who can play the center spot, Illinois doesn't have a ton of options there at this moment. Theo JohnDerek Culver and Malik Williams would be the possible choices in 2017, and they're all out-of-state targets. I would probably choose John of the three, but I'd put Oklahoma ahead of Illinois - and others as well until the Illini can get him on campus.

2016,2017, transfer, the next Illinois basketball commit will be... ?

I'd expect the next Illini commit to be a transfer. A decision on Mike Thorne Jr. is going to come in the next month, and hopefully sooner rather than later. There's a good chance another spot is going to come open after the legal process. So Illinois is starting to become active on the market. Louisiana Tech transfer forward Merrill Holden makes sense for the Illini, and we'll see if they can get him on campus for a visit.

Derek, how long does Illinois wait on Tate, Thorne, and Nunn statuses? A number of players are already choosing transfer choices. Groce has to win this year. There 2-3 scholarships that are being held up and possibly, the good 5th yr options are making their visits and choices now. Tough call for John Groce and staff.

Is Illinois going to wait on Thorne before pursuing any 5th year guys?

Very tough call. You're starting to see the staff become active on the transfer market with interest. They fully understand the odds of at least one scholarship opening up. But at the same time, I don't think you'll see them dismiss a player before they have enough facts to prove wrongdoing. And they haven't been fast and furious to dish out Thorne's scholarship yet. That's because if you can get Thorne back, he's the best option of any out on the market. 

Any rumblings on 5th years? Or are they waiting on Thorne?

They have reached out to Holden, and they're putting in some work there. Auburn is the only program that currently has a visit slated with him, as he will go there on April 29. Alabama, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Iowa State and UNLV are some other schools that are in the mix. Outside of that, Illinois hasn't been that involved with fifth-year transfers to this point.

Will we see any '17 in-homes or visits in the very near future? Seems like I see and hear things going on with other teams but just the Easley visit last weekend for the Illini.

Illini assistant Dustin Ford had an in-home visit with four-star point guard Trent Frazier down in Florida. The staff is always trying to get targets down to campus. You could see that happen in early May with a break in the AAU schedule, and especially in June. As for in-home visits, Illinois couldn't do as many as they'd like because of the contact rules. You can't have off-campus contact more than seven times with a recruit during the school year. The Illini went to watch many in-state targets during the season, and they've saved some contacts for the two evaluation periods this month.

Why does Charlie Moore say he would be interested in Illinois and the Irvin's say the opposite, and more importantly who should we believe?

Do you think Illinois will pursue Charlie, especially if they sense there might be problems with Tate.

The Irvins didn't say that Charlie won't be interested - at least not in my conversations with them. But some people around the Mac Irvin Fire program did say "Illinois already has their point guard". If Te'Jon Lucas does not oppose, I think Illinois should at least gauge interest through a back channel. I wouldn't be surprised if they already have. But in terms of an all-out pursuit, the odds probably go against that right now.

How hard is Illinois and this staff being negatively recruited? Is the perception among recruits that Groce is a dead man walking?

Negative recruiting happens all the time. I'm sure it is a factor with guys like Jeremiah Tilmon and Jordan Goodwin. I don't think that is the perception of Groce - at least not to that extent. Recruits understand that he has been in hot water and that he needs to win next season. Other programs may try to convince recruits and their families that Groce isn't a winner, or that Illinois can't take them where they want to go. But that's just the nature of the game, and sometimes that kind of stuff can backfire when relationships are strong.

What can you tell us about Kipper?

The Ohio native has Illini fans very intrigued, obviously. Jeremy had some good stuff on Kipper in his Adam Fletcher article. The 6-foot-6 forward is physically gifted, and the narrative has mostly stayed the same on him. He is very athletic and physical. The staff loves his competitiveness, and ability to run the floor, defend, rebound and attack. I've been told that he is still learning from the mental side of the game. He is also focused on becoming more consistent with his jumper. But physically, he's ready to roll.

Goodwin's father was recently quoted as saying "He knows where I want him to go. He has his favorite or favorites but ultimately it's up to him". Do you have a feeling one way or the other if Goodwin's dad was perhaps the one who encouraged him to wait on committing last fall because Illinois wasn't his (the dad's) favorite?

I know for a fact that Goodwin's dad was not the one that advised Jordan to wait last fall. It was someone else close to the recruitment.

Do we have the best odds to land the younger Finke? I know it's been reported that he wouldn't mind getting out of Champaign, but man would it be a punch in the gut if we couldn't get a 5* with all of his Illini ties to come here.

I think it's fair to say that Illinois has the best odds right now.

Who's on the short list to replace Groce next year (if necessary)?? I heard Whitman had preliminary discussions with at least one coach.

Any chance we pull a Lovie with Fred Hoiberg once he's fires from the Bulls?

If I were to guess...Fred Hoiberg, Cuonzo Martin and Jeff Capel.

What are Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit doing?

Taking Beckman's $250,000 to Vegas.

Kind of ties into the Nunn and Tate timing questions. What is the normal timelines for transfers to sign. If the worst happens, I assume Groce will look to a transfer or two to replace them.

You see a lot of transfers make their decisions between the end of April and the first few weeks in May. Some can be before that. Thorne committed on April 18 last year. Or you could see a guy like Khalid Lewis find his transfer destination in August.

Derek, Can you rate the top 5 - 10 5th yrs that we should look at that are currently available. (Not necessarily the 5 - 10 best transfers.)

1. Merrill Holden (Louisiana Tech) - 8.1 ppg & 5.0 rpg

2. Akeem Springs (Milwaukee) - 13.2 ppg & 5.3 rpg

3. LaRon Smith (Bethune-Cookman) - 7.1 ppg & 6.9 rpg

4. Grant Mullins (Columbia) - 13.3 ppg & 3.3 apg

5. Valentine Izundu (Washington State) - 3.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg & 2.2 bpg

We all have heard Brunson (and Irvin's) claimed to be offended that Groce backed off after Snider committed. Is that in fact true (and it's pretty damning if it is given Brunson's talent and clear ability to play with other PG's)? If not, what motive would the Brunson camp have.

I also heard that Groce went to Brunson's school the first day of the Open period in part to "make good" with the Irvin's, even though he knew Brunson was a stretch, it was indicated it would mean a lot to the Irvin's if he was still prioritized and not made to look like second fiddle. Any truth here?

Rick Brunson ran that recruitment, and he was the one that took exception to how Illinois pursued his son and then backed off. It didn't really matter what the Irvins thought. I know Groce had to work hard to get back in with the Brunson camp. Jalen let Illinois back in the mix. But ultimately, Rick had a strong pull in the end.

At some point, have the relationships just soured too far? I feel like relationships in Chicago are almost too far gone at this point, barring a huge turnaround. Now that I say that, we'll probably get Charlie Moore.

Really depends who you ask.

Do you think the staff already has a good idea of what is going to happen with Nunn and Tate? When can Black start doing the program that Jeremy detailed in his Coach Fletcher article?

I think they are pretty well informed, but they have to let certain things play out. Black can't do any team activities until his suspension has been lifted.

What is the perception of John Groce as a coach among the rest of the conference?

As you'd expect, everything that is said publicly is positive. In general, I think he has a pretty good reputation. Everyone knows he is hard-working, passionate, cares for his players and he has the ability to recruit. In addition, they know that he's had some bad breaks. But that's not to say that they don't understand his faults as well.

Do you know of any plans for a player on the current roster to play on Spring or Summer touring teams like Athletes in Action, etc.

I haven't heard anything on that.

Marquise Walker, I saw he wants an Illinois offer. Do you think he wants to come to Illinois? Do you see him being a national recruit? Who is he playing with for AAU?

I know he wants an offer. Too early to say if Illinois would be where he ends up. I think he will attract national interest. Walker was impressive in the state tournament, and he had a really strong year overall as a starting freshman point guard. He has played with MeanStreets in the past, but I saw that he played with Nike Team Florida during the first AAU weekend.

Kezo Brown, what's up with him?

He's playing with the Mac Irvin Fire 16U squad. Sounds like he had a good weekend out in New York, including a 20-point performance in one half. But he didn't play very much during the high school season at Simeon. Evan Gilyard was the man at point guard, and Brown still hasn't reached his potential.

I also saw Brian Bowen is playing with MeanStreets that has to help for Illinois just a little bit. Do you see Illinois having a chance or is it MSU or Kentucky for him?

It certainly doesn't hurt. But everything I've heard is that it's Kentucky and Michigan State.

Do you know the outcome/what was discussed with players as part of their "end of season" one on one meetings?

I talked with one of the assistants about those meetings last week. He said it was business as usual. They just met with the players to talk about their evaluation from the season, and what they need to focus on going into the offseason. I'm told there wasn't much else to take from them.

There were rumblings on other forums that a couple of players (JCL and AJ) might be transfer candidates. Any truth to that rumor (or others who may be looking to jump ship)?

Not on my end.

Are Black, Nunn and Tate currently working out with the team? It would be a shame if those who return (especially Black) miss out on several weeks/months of strength and conditioning.  Adding muscle and explosiveness to Black would be huge!

No team activity for any of them.


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