The stage is set for Morgan Park point guard Charlie Moore to figure out where he'll suit up this fall.
The Illinois Mr. Basketball winner began his slate of visits with an official at LSU from Wednesday through Friday. He will then head to SMU on Sunday for his final official visit. Moore told IlliniInquirer.com that he will take an unofficial visit to Illinois after those conclude.
Moore is the top-ranked uncommitted guard in the 2016 class - coming in at No. 65 overall in Scout's final rankings. The four-star playmaker averaged 28 points, seven assists and five steals per game during his senior campaign.
Illinois head coach John Groce and Paris Parham met with Moore in Chicago on April 18, and the Illini were named in his top eight last week. Now, they appear to be in the final heat for the Mac Irvin Fire product.
Advantages in Illinois' corner
The Illini have been in the mix with Moore longer than anyone left in this race. While LSU and SMU were not in the picture the first time around, Illinois was one of Moore's first high-major offers in April 2015. The home-state program made him feel like the No. 1 priority in the class throughout the AAU season last summer.
Groce made sure to sit courtside at every single game of Moore's during the Peach Jam in July. Meanwhile, the relationship continued to grow very strong. Parham kept in constant contact with Moore, and they developed a bond that went beyond the pursuit to land him.
That was displayed even after Illinois took a commitment from Te'Jon Lucas, and Moore ultimately committed to Memphis. Moore told IlliniInquirer.com that was important to him, and it carries quite a bit of weight this time around.
"It's pretty big. I still got a great relationship with those guys," Moore said. "I was still talking to Parham, even though I didn't decide to go there. Its pretty big for me that he was still wanting to talk to me even though I wasn't going to go there. That shows their relationship with me."
The familiarity and comfort that has been formed figures to be a major plus for Illinois.
"Paris has been on him for a long time. He's known his dad as well. The relationship is there," Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin told IlliniInquirer.com. "He feels comfortable talking with Paris, and he feels comfortable with Paris recruiting him."
Proximity to home
Family can be an important factor in certain recruitments, and Illinois is the one program that allows Moore to stay close to his family in Chicago. Moore's father, Curtis, suffered a stroke during Labor Day weekend - a week before he was supposed to take his first official visit. Illinois had an official visit slated a few weeks later. But Charlie Moore rightfully elected to turn his focus to his family during the trying time and delay his recruitment.
Curtis Moore's condition has improved since then. But he was unable to talk to his son or anyone else for a month. He wasn't able to attend any of his son's games this past season. But that father-son bond is as strong as ever.
"I talk to him every day," Charlie Moore told the Chicago Sun-Times back in March. "He has more energy. He eats more and is laughing and having a good time."
Curtis Moore is the one responsible for putting a basketball in Charlie Moore's hands at a young age. He molded him into the player he has become. He gave him the inspiration and drive to shred the hardwood this past season.
But more importantly, Charlie Moore has been able to be there for him. Going to Illinois would allow him to have an easy drive back up I-57 to see his family, and they could come to Champaign as well.
Charlie Moore and Illinois seemed like a perfect match the first time around. His game is an ideal fit in Groce's ball-screen system. Charlie Moore has superb handles and quickness. He has great vision and decision-making skills in the pick 'n roll. He can scorch the nets if defenders don't hedge that screen. He's also electric in transition.
Overall, Charlie Moore is exactly what Groce set out to seize when he took the job in Champaign. Just three months after taking over, Groce told The News Gazette's Paul Klee that his system "starts with great point guard play".
"He has to be a dangerous scorer," Groce said. "Then, because of the speed that we play at - that up-tempo, up-and-down-the-court style - that guy also has to be able to make decisions at different speeds and gears...He has to have that get-by or blow-by ability to get in the lane."
Through four seasons at Illinois, Groce hasn't had that guy. Lucas is certainly an upgrade. But you can argue that Charlie Moore is an exact fit to that profile. He would allow Groce to finally execute his desired style of play heading into Year Five and beyond.
The last time Groce had 'his guy' at point guard was D.J. Cooper at Ohio. Cooper stands as the only play in D-1 history to post at least 2,000 career points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals. The Illini have already done work to sell Charlie Moore on what he can be as a fit in Groce's system.
"They broke things down very detailed on how they will use him," Irvin said after he and Moore visited Champaign last June. "I think Coach Groce is a great guy and a great coach."
Each recruitment is unique. There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to recruiting. But there are common themes that develop when you look at the grand scale.
Momentum is very important in recruiting, and Illini fans know well that the visit schedule is typically a good indicator of where things are heading. There a handful of recent examples of how the last visit destination led to the ultimate destination.
Illinois was the last visit for Jalen Coleman-Lands. Villanova was the last visit for Jalen Brunson. Oklahoma State for Jawun Evans. Texas A&M for Elijah Thomas. Michigan for Xavier Simpson. Kansas for Cliff Alexander.
Once again, this is not always the case. But there is value in having the last visit and the final pitch.
As it stands right now, it appears that Illinois will be Charlie Moore's final visit. Sometimes recruits don't take their full slate of visits. There is a threat of a commitment anytime a recruit is on campus. That's what LSU and SMU will be pushing for in the coming days.
But Charlie Moore told IlliniInquirer.com that he will "definitely" visit Champaign again before a decision is made. That doesn't come off as lip service. Furthermore, it doesn't seem likely that Charlie Moore will take unofficial visits to other programs that aren't exactly a convenient drive away - especially since he and his family would have to pay out of pocket.
That puts the Illini in a good spot, and one that they wanted to be in. They can make their pitch, and present counters to what LSU and SMU sold on the previous visits. They can make the final impression as well. All of that can be used as an advantage - if Charlie Moore follows through on his plans.
Challenges facing Illinois
"Give me the ball"
Illinois has Lucas and Tracy Abrams at the point guard position next season. That sounds better than any combination of Jaylon Tate, Khalid Lewis and Ahmad Starks the past two years. The Illini have been selling that Lucas and Charlie Moore can coexist in the same backcourt during their careers. Multiple point guards can play together at the same time, and successful teams in the NCAA tournament have shown that.
Both players have said the right things about playing together, and Illinois wouldn't be at this stage with Moore if he wasn't open to it.
"Definitely. I think we can," Charlie Moore told IlliniInquirer.com. "Te'Jon is a great player. I'd love playing alongside him. It's a possibility."
"I feel the same way. I feel we would be a dynamic duo like other past point guards, such as the best example: Dee Brown and Deron Williams," Lucas said. "I feel we would compliment each other well. It's the most common way successful college basketball is getting played."
Brunson and senior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono started all but one game together this past season on the way to winning a national title. Brown and Williams both played more than 27 minutes per games as freshmen and combined for more than 300 assists on a team that finished second in the Big Ten. Those are dream examples.
In Champaign next season, there will be one starting spot for a point guard to go alongside other guards Jalen Coleman-Lands, Malcolm Hill and possibly Kendrick Nunn. Charlie Moore wants to know he will be that guy.
"He wants to start from Day One," Irvin said. "He just wants to play basketball and have a chance to win. He's been a winner all of his life. He wants to go to a good situation where he can win and be on the floor."
There's no question Illinois should sell that. They know they have to sell that. They sold that all of last summer and into September. Now, they have to continue to show that he will be the alpha when he steps foot on campus.
Abrams has been a two-year starter in the Big Ten. Lucas is far and away the best point guard that Groce has landed at Illinois to this point, and he said 'yes' when others hadn't. But the Illinois Mr. Basketball isn't coming if he isn't promised the ball.
Smooth any rough edges
It's not a secret that both Charlie Moore and the Illini have a great liking for each other. It's nothing new either. Illinois had as good of a chance as any to land him the first time - if they could afford to wait. A betting man might have even had them as the favorites. But almost three years had passed without a commit from a point guard prospect - minus the flippant one from Quentin Snider.
The Illini had to take Lucas, and to get him to sign on the dotted line, he had to be their guy in the class. The sure thing was the only thing, and it made complete sense. But that doesn't mean there weren't emotions involved. Charlie Moore had to watch the Illini bow out when his family was dealing with a very tough situation.
Did he have the opportunity to commit before that? Absolutely, but it's hard to blame him for wanting to take official visits and fully explore his options to make the best possible decision. And that's what his camp was guiding him to do. In theory, both sides make sense.
A different but comparable situation happened when Illinois had Snider committed as their point guard of the future and stopped recruiting Brunson. Rick Brunson took exception, and he was also the one who convinced his son to take another visit after going to Illinois for his first official. Granted, there were more factors in play. But some things aren't forgotten.
Obviously, there has been an understanding between Charlie Moore and the Illini. But they have to have his complete trust, and the same goes for other influential people in his camp. High-profile commitments are rarely one-person decisions.
Groce and his staff have to make the right sell, and make sure the right ears believe what they say. Any wrinkles need to be ironed out.
Lighting the Fire
The Irvin brothers have said good things about Groce and his staff for most of his tenure at Illinois. Parham has built a good relationship with them, and they talk all the time. But talk can be cheap, and it doesn't equal commitments.
In February, Da'Monte Williams became the first high school prospect from the Mac Irvin Fire to commit to the Illini under Groce. That's concerning when you're talking about what has been the most talent-heavy AAU program in the state. And Williams' recruitment wasn't affiliated with the Irvins.
Why hasn't Illinois gotten more Mac Irvin Fire or Morgan Park products? It hasn't been for a lack of effort. Illinois was in deep with Alexander, Brunson, Marcus LoVett and now Charlie Moore. But they haven't been able to get over the hump when the Irvins are actively involved. That's just an unmistakable fact.
Some Illini fans have viewed them as an unconquerable hurdle. A reason that 'Lucy' keeps pulling the football away at the last second. Opinions differ on the subject. It's important to remember that parents had more pull than the Irvins in the previously listed misses.
That's the case here as well, but the Irvins certainly have an important voice with Charlie Moore. Nick Irvin has coached him more than anyone during his career. Illinois has fared well with that side of the relationship so far, and you could argue that there has been progress compared to prior recruitments.
Last June, Nick Irvin visited Champaign with his point guard. That was the first time he had been to campus in the three-plus years since Groce was hired. The Irvins - who have never been known to be shy - also did Illinois a favor by keeping quiet about the Charlie Moore pursuit while they talked things out with Lucas a few weeks ago.
But none of that matters if the Illini aren't able to close the deal once again. Even though they won't be the deciding word, the Illini need to get the Irvins in their corner when it matters most.
Get down to business
While LSU and SMU get to have Charlie Moore on campus a 48-hour period during his official visit, the Illini won't have that same allotment of time for his unofficial trip. Official visits generally include campus tours, courting dinners, trips to the head coach's house, bonding time with the players and other planned activities.
Illinois won't have time for all of that - but some will certainly occur. Luckily, Charlie Moore has already experienced some of these things during his two previous trips to Champaign. The presentation and routine will be important. You want the recruit and his family to enjoy themselves.
But mostly, the Illini will be focused on business during the hours they have with Charlie Moore and his mom, Tanya. They will sit down and lay everything out on the table. What is their one-year plan for him? What is their four-year plan?
Is there ground to be had when it comes to their unique sells: Close to home, long relationship, etc.? Are there any areas that LSU and SMU stand out more? What did they put on the table? Can the Illini counter?
This will be the essence of the visit. Illinois will be given the opportunity to match or outsell the other options. It won't necessarily be easy, as both LSU and SMU have won some high-profile recruitments in recent years.
You can bet that athletic director Josh Whitman will have some sort of involvement, as he tries to help the Illini sell in any way possible. This will be his first big-time hoops visit during his tenure. A run-in with Brown couldn't hurt either.
Ultimately, there is value to being positioned after other visits. But this particular case puts a crunch on time, which will force the Illini staff to methodically strategize and execute their plan to garner the best result.