June is a big month for the Illini hoops program, and not just because the players will return to campus for summer classes and workouts.
Recruiting is always in season, and this month will likely bring a number of targets to Champaign for visits. Most of them are typically unofficial trips to stop by for the day, see a team workout, walk the campus and chat it up with the coaches.
The Illini have a few 2017 prospects they'd like to get in town this month, especially Minneapolis-area big man Theo John. The stakes will likely be higher than most with that one, as he could make a decision before July.
John Groce and his staff have brought in some younger in-state talent for visits. But the primary focus still remains on the all-important 2017 class, and each turn of the calendar turns up the heat on Illinois to get the job done.
Here is a look at how the Illini are trending with their 2017 targets this month.
Illinois has put the time and effort in with this four-star center, who already has a Big Ten frame with his strength and broad shoulders. Groce and assistant coach Paris Parham visited with John and his parents up in Minnesota in April. The two parties have been working on a visit for this month, but a date hasn't been set in stone. John took an official visit to Oklahoma in early April. He took an unofficial visit to UCLA earlier this month while he was out in the area for the Pangos All-American Camp. Illinois and Marquette were expected to be the next ones in line, and those staffs have been working to get him on campus. But Purdue jumped in the mix with an offer last week, and John told IlliniInquirer.com that he is in the process of setting up an official visit to West Lafayette this weekend. The Illini have been talking about an official visit with him as well, but they need to get it locked in.
Stevenson forward Justin Smith elevated his game during the spring, and Illinois has followed suit with their level of interest. Smith told IlliniInquirer.com last month that he has had good conversations with Groce, who would like to get Smith back on campus this summer. There are many schools in the mix, and Smith picked up new offers from Iowa State, Stanford, Villanova, Xavier and others during the spring. He will participate in the NBPA Top 100 Camp this week.
The Illini got four-star wing Terrence Lewis on campus for a visit in March, and Parham visited him up in Milwaukee during the contact period in April. Lewis told IlliniInquirer.com that he got a good impression of the coaching staff during the visit to Champaign, and that he'd like to return to campus for another visit in the future. Illinois continues to be one of the programs that Lewis is hearing from the most. He would like to take other visits to Auburn, Iowa State, Minnesota, Oregon and Xavier.
Fort Lauderdale wing RaiQuan Gray included Illinois in his top-13 list last week. Gray took an official visit to Baylor last month, and he also took an unofficial visit to Ole Miss. The Illini are working to be one of his official visit destinations in the fall. Ford has been selling immediate playing time at the three-spot. Gray is extremely versatile, and he has great size and strength as well.
Indianapolis combo guard Paul Scruggs named the Illini in his top eight late last month, and Indy Hoosiers head coach Mike Peterson said Scruggs would visit Champaign this month. That was supposed to happen this week, but those plans have changed. Peterson told IlliniInquirer.com on Monday that they will take "a later visit" with Scruggs' parents. Scruggs visited Louisville earlier this month, and he was at Xavier for their team camp last weekend. He also has plans to visit Indiana and Michigan State this month. Illinois had Scruggs on campus last summer, and the Illini have stayed in the mix since then. His plans to visit again tells you that the window is still cracked open. That being said, the odds of actually landing him are still stacked heavily against the Orange and Blue.
Alonzo Verge has magnetizing talent, but there are still a bevy of question marks surrounding his situation. Verge has been to three different schools in the last two years, and he is looking for another destination this fall. The Chicago-area playmaker has high-major ability, but there are valid concerns about him qualifying after his senior year. Illinois got in the mix with an offer last spring, and Verge told IlliniInquirer.com last weekend that the Illini continue to show interest. He has begun to pick up interest from Kansas as well. Illinois has positioned themselves well if Verge becomes a legitimate target. But that has yet to play out.
Top-40 big man Derek Culver would likely find himself in 'dream class' scenarios for Illini fans. Culver visited Champaign last fall, and he came away "very impressed" by Groce -- according to his high school coach. Illinois figures to remain in the chase based on the effort they have put forth. But the fear is that this recruitment is similar to that of fellow Ohio product Carlton Bragg. The Illini stayed in the mix until the end in that one only to fall short. Meanwhile, West Virginia has been considered to have the pole position. They hosted him for an unofficial visit earlier this month. Culver has also said he'd like to visit Arizona and Florida.
Illinois offered 6-foot-9 big man Mayan Kiir in April, and they are currently on a short list of contenders. Louisville, Long Beach State and VCU have also offered. Kiir told Scout.com that the Illini appear to have a good fit for him in the frontcourt. But Louisville likely has the best shot. Kiir is an import from Australia, and he plays for Victory Rock Prep head coach Loren Jackson, who was the legal guardian of Louisville 2015 signee Deng Adel -- also from Australia.
Groce visited four-star forward Jaren Jackson multiple times last fall in Indianapolis, and the Illini hosted Jackson for a visit last summer. But Illinois is outside of the group of major players right now. Jackson's father played basketball at Georgetown, and the Hoyas are considered one of the teams to beat. Alabama, Indiana, Maryland and Michigan State are also in that mix.
Illinois liked what they saw from athletic power forward Jericho Sims in April, and they offered him after the first evaluation period. Parham visited Sims up in Minnesota that month as well. But the Illini haven't been mentioned with Sims recently. He took a visit to Minnesota this month, and his dad played for the Gophers in the '70s. Sims also landed offers from Texas and Florida later this spring.
The Illini extended an offer to four-star big man Xavier Tillman last month, but it appears it was too little, too late. A week later, Tillman announced a list of 19 schools and Illinois did not make the cut. Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue were the Big Ten teams on the list. Tillman's dad played at Michigan, and the Wolverines could be a player with an offer. Kentucky offered last summer, and that could be the automatic destination if that offer is committable.
Kris Wilkes is a five-star talent, and Groce has yet to land one of those in Champaign during his tenure. Don't count on Wilkes to be the one to change that. He visited Michigan last weekend and received an offer. There are a number of other high-level players as well.