Fact or Fiction: Dee Brown will make a difference for Illini hoops in recruiting.
Dee Brown bleeds orange and blue. His personality is contagious. His work ethic is unmatched. His name still resonates throughout the state.
Even those who were too young to remember his greatness in Champaign in picture-perfect fashion know enough to respect the pedigree. McDonald's All-American. Illinois Mr. Basketball. Big Ten Player of the Year. Bob Cousy Award winner. Sports Illustrated cover boy. SportsCenter headliner. NBA Draft pick.
Those are the type of aspirations and goals floating around the mind of any high-level high school player with a hoop dream. Brown knows what it takes to get there.
When you combine his charisma, knowledge of the game, infectious energy, relatability, competitive drive and experience of accomplishment at Illinois, that's an indisputable boost for John Groce and his program when a prospective ballplayer visits the Illini campus. Not to mention, Brown has connections to Chicago and other places where Illinois may not have been plugged in before.
It's no secret the state of Illinois produces some top-level talent. But according to the Scout.com rankings, the home-state program hasn't landed the top-ranked player in the state since the 2010 class (Meyers Leonard). The Illini haven't landed a consensus five-star talent since Brown himself.
But the good news is that Brown is the living example of what a top -- even elite -- in-state player can become when putting 'Illinois' across the chest at the next level. Recruits can see that when they walk into the State Farm Center with Brown on a visit and look up at his jersey in the rafters. They'll see the National Runner-Up banner up there as well.
Players want to be around people who know how to get them to where they want to go. Parents wants their sons to be mentored by people who can bring out the very best in them. Brown can add to that sell.
There's really no better time for Brown to come on board with a crucial 2017 class on the horizon, and potential game-changing targets like Jordan Goodwin and Jeremiah Tilmon within arm's reach. He has been on the staff for less than a month, and you can already see positive reactions.
Goodwin talked to IlliniInquirer.com about Brown's addition to the staff.
"I think that's big for Illinois," he said. "He played there at a high level. He knows what it takes. He got things done with him and Deron Williams. Everyone knows that."
Evanston (Ill.) four-star combo guard/forward Nojel Eastern was intrigued by the hire as well. He wants to play point at the next level, and having the opportunity to learn from Brown makes him want to listen.
"That's good news to my ears," Eastern said. "He's one of the best guards to ever play at that level. To have a point guard like that work out with me, that'd be great. I think that would be a boost from my perspective."
The Illini have already begun to incorporate Brown into visits this month, as they hosted a pair of top in-state point guards last weekend. Morgan Park point guard Ayo Dosunmu is No. 28 overall in the 2018 class, and he got a chance to talk with the former Illini great.
"He explained the advantages of playing for your state school and earning a U of I degree," Dosunmu said.
Is having Brown on staff an added selling point?
"Absolutely," he said. "Having Dee on campus is definitely a bonus to the players, especially the ones from Chicago."
Brown made an even bigger impact last Saturday when top 2019 in-state point guard Marquise Walker came to Champaign for a visit and picked up an offer. Walker has known Brown since he was a youngster, and their conversation last weekend meant a lot to him.
"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. "It's amazing. It can make you speechless. 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 named Illinois the leader in his recruitment after the visit. Of course, that's not all of Brown's doing. Credit shouldn't be taken away from Groce and the rest of his staff, who have already established relationships and put in countless hours of work.
They will be the ones who put in the majority of the effort in recruiting. While he'd love to do so, Brown can't sit in AAU gyms, conduct in-home visits, call up recruits, etc. But he can play an integral part in his defined role.
Brown has made his presence felt already, and just wait until official visit season kicks off. Brown is a natural-born winner with as many career victories as anyone in the history of the proud basketball program. He represents what Illinois aspires to be once again.
That connection to the past and added value to the present can aid the Illini when it comes to landing great players of the future.