Easterling Mailbag: Delivered

You had questions, we have answers.  Illini Inquirer recruiting reporter Ryan Easterling answers your questions in the latest mailbag.

Where do Tilmon and Goodwin end up signing this fall?

Went right for the jugular, huh?  

Well, I think the perception is definitely changing as far as how favorable Illinois' position is with both.  Interviews with both Tilmon and Goodwin from the Indianapolis stop of the EYBL seemed to suggest that the two are aiming to enjoy the process and not rush into a decision any time soon.  And honestly, I can't blame them for wanting to go through that process.  Albeit, I was never a D1 athlete, and the extent of my college "recruitment" was getting a mailbox full of letters from various colleges, but I can understand why those guys would want to be able to take a few trips to schools around the country and go through a process that they will only have an opportunity to experience this one time in their lives.

That being said, I think Illinois has done a very good job of recruiting both from the get-go.  This 2017 class is the one the staff knew they had to hone in on as soon as they arrived at Illinois, and have done an excellent job of prioritizing both players.  The struggles on and off the court have undoubtedly made the sell for Illinois more difficult, but that still shouldn't preclude either from choosing Illinois.  Goodwin has picked up several offers, including Texas, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Pitt, UConn, and others.  Illinois has made him a priority for a long time, and there were rumors he was close to a commitment back in the fall, but has held off.  Illinois is still in a good spot with him, but probably still has more to prove to eventually win his commitment.  With Tilmon, Kansas, Michigan State, and North Carolina have emerged as some of the main contenders for Tilmon, and many felt that he was beginning to cool on the Illini, but according to the latest National Recruiting Report, Illinois may still be the team to beat, though the gap sounds like it could be closing.

Why do bad things happen to good fans?

What came first: The chicken or the egg?

I have seen examples of increased interest in the Illini football program from the type of recruits that wouldn't have considered Illinois in the past. Do you see the Illini landing some of these higher rated guys from in/out of state this year or should you look forward to landing some of these guys in the the 2018 class? This "Saban Rule" really puts the clamps on Lovie and Illinois this year due to the hiring timeline of Lovie Smith.

The "Saban Rule" is certainly having an effect on Lovie's ability to capitalize upon the splash of his hiring and connections around the country right now.  Fortunately his assistants have been able to get out on the road and visit schools and recruits.  And Lovie has been able to recruit well on campus so far.  Until Lovie himself is able to get out on the road and personally recruit, Illinois will have to rely on the assistants to reach out and get the ball rolling.

But once Lovie gets out on the trail, I think you'll see recruiting turned up a notch.  Garrick McGee, Hardy Nickerson, and Thad Ward have already provided a boost to the effort, but Lovie is really the coach everyone wants to see on the trail.  In general, the entire staff (save Phair, Williams, and McGarigle), were all a bit behind on recruiting the 2017 class at Illinois, but the timing does prevent Lovie from getting out and building his reputation as a recruiter.  He's getting some key 2018 guys like Micah Jones on campus now, so he's able to build relationships, but 2017 is going to be more of a challenge.  I still see he and his staff landing more guys than I would have expected the previous staff to land in 2017, though.

Do the latest big men offered: Jericho Sims, RaiQuan Gray, and Mayan Kiir have interest in Illinois or is Groce just checking for their interest?

I think some of it is gauging interest, but I also think a large part of this is the staff not wanting to put all of their eggs in one basket.  Admittedly, they're having to adjust their strategy as the recruiting cycle goes on, but if they don't plant the seed with front court players other than Tilmon, Negron, Smith, and John now, they run the risk of being left empty-handed should they miss on those guys.  Each of Sims, Gray, and Kiir all bring a unique skill set, but Illinois had a problem rebounding the basketball this past year, and are making an effort to bolster the roster with guys who can clean up on the glass.

What's going on with Charlie Moore? It sounded like he was going to make a decision over the next week or two and then we haven't heard anything since he released the top 8. Will he visit Illinois? Best guess do we land him?

Without reiterating too much of what Derek already had to say about the Charlie Moore situation, Illinois will get an unofficial visit following Moore's final two official visits to LSU and SMU.  If he makes it to the Illinois visit uncommitted, then I'd say the Illini's chances are fairly good.  But it's still not a certain thing.  Illinois would be hitting a home run by landing a guy like Moore this late in the game, but would also totally understand (and not really be surprised) if he opted to go somewhere else.

Who are the players that have received offers recently (Lewis, Kiir, Sims, John) that have really surprised you and will raise up in their evaluations?

Disclaimer: I don't have any say/input in the rankings.  But Terrence Lewis and Theo John have really stood out to me this spring with improved play.  John was raw last spring, but has shown much more fluidity and natural court IQ this year.  He's an excellent screener and a load on the glass on both ends of the floor.  He isn't very ball-dominant with Gary Trent and Tre Jones on his team, but is capable of getting grimy points around the hoop.

I really like Lewis' game, and think he's been able to shine even more with Jordan Poole now playing for the Mac Irvin Fire.  Lewis plays on the ball a lot more now and has shown his ability to get it done from just about anywhere on the court.  He plays hard from start to finish, and functions as a bit of a coach on the floor.  At least as far as my personal evaluations go, he's really taken a leap.

I haven't personally seen Sims or Kiir play yet, so I don't have a great gauge on them, and don't want to base my opinion purely off of a highlight tape, but Kiir is reportedly a very good rebounder and a plus athlete.  Sims is a solid athlete who is really smooth, but appears to be a little more perimeter oriented.  With Leron Black back, I'm not sure how that affects recruiting priorities specifically, because Illinois may still want to load up on bigs anyway.  But of that group mentioned, Lewis and John have really stood out to me since I've gotten to see them more than once and have had a chance to compare performances over time.

Will the football staff leave one or two openings for next year for 2nd semester transfers?

From what I understand, roster space shouldn't be an issue next year.  This staff will want to be able to tweak and reshape the roster to fit their philosophy and system, so that will occur more through recruiting than through transfers.  Most transfers are temporary (specifically grad transfers) and are really only brought in to fill a position of need.  Wes Lunt is an example of a transfer who doesn't fit that mold, but guys like Nickerson and President come in for one semester and provide key depth at thin positions.  

Right now, the numbers don't look like Illinois will be able to take a full 25-man class, but that also doesn't take into account any possible transfers out after these players spend a year under a new staff and in a new system.

I know the staff is working hard to secure commits from Oladipo and Awodiran, but what other in state football recruits (uncommitted) would they take commitments from at this point before summer camps? What in state players are they waiting to see in camp before making their offers commitable?

A few of the recruits they were in with have committed elsewhere early (Green-May to Wisconsin, Robertson to Notre Dame), again an byproduct of a short timetable on the 2017 class.  Two teammates they have targeted right now are Crete-Monee's Juawan Treadwell and John Mitchell.  Both have visited recently and are toward the top of the in-state wish list for the staff.  Treadwell isn't the freak his brother is, but he's a great athlete and would be a possible early-impact guy.  John Mitchell has flown a bit under the radar to this point, but recently picked up a Syracuse offer and could be blowing up before too long.

There are a few guys the staff really like, but because they haven't had much time to do thorough evaluation, they still want to see camp and visit this summer.  Some of those would be players like Isaac HawnCam ThomasJamir Whitelow, and Vederian Lowe are likely camp guys.  If they validate the staff's initial evaluations, then their offers will either come or be fully confirmed.

Since Goodwin and Tilmon look like lost causes, give us your rundown of the Plan B guys - John, Lewis, etc.

On the football side, I guess I'd be interested in hearing more on how HS coaches are reacting to Lovie's hire and the new staff. Are they getting a lot of "you need to check out this kid" calls? Seems like we're going to have to pull in some under the radar talent, and a good HS network will help there.  Any names you are hearing, or planning to check out yourself?

How stupid is this mascot idea?

I think you hesitate to refer to guys like Theo John, Justin Smith, and Terrence Lewis as "Plan B" guys, because I don't think the staff sees them as "Plan B".  There are a handful of guys they have put the most effort into like Tilmon, Eastern, and Goodwin, but John, Smith, Negron, and Lewis are all players who they would probably accept a commitment from right now.  The recent offers are guys with whom they are still building relationships, and so I wouldn't expect commitments from any of them any time soon, allowing time for the recruitments of that top group to play out a bit first.

The reaction overall has been very positive for Lovie among high school coaches.  He has some ground to make up, but his name carries a lot of weight, and he was able to get in front of well over 800 coaches at the coaching clinic a month or so ago.  That exposure helps immensely.  Now I'm sure he's gotten a lot of calls asking the staff to take a look at guys who aren't really cut out for D1 Big Ten football, but more of those calls now probably ARE about D1-level guys, and that's a good thing.  For a program that struggled on and off the field the last few years, the professionalism and clean PR with which Lovie has run the program his first couple months is refreshing, and that earns respect from coaches around the state, and even the country.

Personally, I'm open to the idea of a mascot as long as due diligence is done to ensure that it represents the university's identity and isn't something goofy.. like.. you know.. a SQUIRREL.  But hey, a multi-million dollar marine research ship about got named Boaty McBoatface, so I guess anything is possible.

What's the likelihood that Lovie is able to get a five star blue chipper in the 2017 class?

Being realistic, I wouldn't hold out too much hope for that in 2017.  There isn't really a 5-star guy that this staff has strong pre-existing ties to.  The state's lone 5-star (Epenesa) is an Iowa legacy.  And the next closest fringe 5-star Jeff Thomas just narrowed his list to 6, which didn't include Illinois.  It's not for a lack of trying, as they have offered a few 5-star guys in 2017.  What is more likely in 2017 is landing a surprise 4-star guy a little closer to signing day.  Hardy Nickerson has ties to California, and Illinois has really spread out some offers to several 4-star guys in the Golden State, and it's definitely possible that they could end up with one of them if things shake out their way come signing day.

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