The Illini hosted top in-state 2019 point guard Marquise Walker for a campus visit on Saturday, and after the trip and an offer, the home-state program is at the top of his list.
"I loved the visit. The visit just showed everything. It just showed that I belong," Walker told IlliniInquirer.com. "It was just all beautiful. The campus was beautiful. The facility, what they were telling me -- it was all beautiful."
"Illinois is at the top right now. I'm not saying I'm for sure committing. But I'm saying they are the for-sure No. 1 right now."
That is a fantastic position for John Groce and his staff to be in with a player of Walker's talent. As a freshman at St. Joe's last season, Walker showed his playmaking savvy, ability to score and overall high-ceiling potential.
Groce and Parham got a courtside look at Walker during the state tournament in Peoria in March, as Walker scored a team-high 18 points against Belleville Althoff in the 3A semifinals. On Saturday, it was Illinois' chance to show what they have to offer to a high-caliber point guard.
"We met at the practice facility. They showed me around the facility and the campus. They showed me the locker room. They showed me the court," Walker said. "They showed me some things that I really liked."
The Orange and Blue also showed their desire for Walker to one day be the point guard of the future.
"I felt like they wanted me there," he said. "I feel like they want me to be a part of the family."
One of the highlights of the visit was Walker's meeting with Dee Brown, who is less than a month into his job as Director of Player Development and Alumni Relations. Illini fans anticipated that Brown would pack a punch on the recruiting side with his ability to interact on visits.
This was Brown's first chance to show what he can do with a point guard recruit since joining the staff, and he certainly hit a home run. It was also beneficial that he has known Walker and his father, Chikosi, for quite some time.
"He basically has full confidence in me. He was just telling me if I came, everything would be shut down. He believes this is the school for me," Walker said. "I've been knowing Dee Brown before he was popular. I've been around him since I was four years old. The fact that he thinks I can be great one day is amazing."
Brown can't put on the orange and blue jersey to revitalize the program, but he can help in another way now by selling players who have that ability. Walker discussed the impact of talking with Brown and having him part of the program.
"It's amazing. It can make you speechless," he said. "There are a billion guards out here. And out of everyone, he's telling me things about what I can do here. I feel truly blessed."
Walker got a chance to be around the Illini players, who are back on campus for school and workouts that begin on Monday. He believes the program is going in the right direction.
"They've got pieces now," Walker said. "They went through a little down run. They had a lot of injuries. In my eyes, they're going to be alright."
Through Walker's eyes, Illinois can return to its rightful place as a perennial contender if he and other in-state standouts buy in.
"Most definitely. We can go there and beyond," Walker said. "If I work hard and we have the right people working hard around me, we can do anything."
Saturday was a big opportunity for Groce and his program to make a striking and lasting impression with a top prospect in the state. Mission accomplished.