The basketball recruiting cycle is about to hit hyperspeed with the July evaluation period almost upon us. The Illini staff will travel across the country for three (3) open five-day evaluation periods where the Illini coaches will watch some of their top targets. It's crunch time for the Class of 2017, a time when the staff either tries to 1) close the deal; or 2) set up fall semester official visits that can help close the deal.
The Illini have two spots filled with in-state wings DaMonte Williams and Javon Pickett and still have at least three spots remaining. So their focus remains wide, but it is narrowing. Florida point guard Trent Frazier, Minnesota big man Theo John and Evanston (Ill.) guard Nojel Eastern are three prospects the Illini are actively trying to get on campus this summer. Five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon just visited campus, and top-60 guard Jordan Goodwin has been an Illini priority for more than 15 months.
But who is most important for the Illini to lock up by the November signing period? Scout.com's experts weigh in.
Brian Snow, Scout national recruiting analyst
I think that it is actually Jordan Goodwin who is the most important for Groce. While Jeremiah Tilmon might be the highest rated prospect, Goodwin is the biggest key. Goodwin is as a tough kid who will be a four year player in college who just helps teams win a lot of games. His skill set is so unique and his game has grown so much, landing a kid like Goodwin would definitely lead to a lot of wins for Groce and Illinois.
Evan Daniels, Scout director of basketball recruiting
Well, Illinois is focused on a handful of players, but I think two immediately come to mind. Jordan Goodwin and Jeremiah Tilmon seem to be of major significance for the Illinois program. Goodwin is a tough, physical wing prospect that can impact the game in a variety of ways. He's like a four-year guy and a player that can help them right away. Tilmon, on the other hand, is higher regarded based on rankings and adding a player of his stature would be great for their future on court production, but also from a perception standpoint. If they were to get both, which is certainly possible, they'd really be in business.
Derek Piper, Illini Inquirer lead basketball reporter
Jeremiah Tilmon has the five-star designation. He's been a target for John Groce and his staff since he was in 8th grade. He would fill a glaring hole on the 2017-18 roster at the five. All that being said, Tilmon's good friend and Belleville Althoff wing Jordan Goodwin is the most important recruit for Groce. He's a down-state stud, who called Illinois his leader after a visit to Champaign last summer.
The Illini need a leader. They need a winner. They need a culture-changer. They need an immediate-impact talent to insert on the wing when Malcolm Hill takes off the orange and blue. Goodwin can be all of those things. He adds so much to a team. It starts with the ability to score, pass, rebound and defend at a high level. But wait, there's more. Goodwin steps in between the lines on the court with an attitude, grit, and bark that matches his fierce bite.
Goodwin has a one-track mind: Win. Workout, practice, intersquad scrimmage, video games, cards, Big Ten championship? Win. The last Illini player with that kind of competitive fire and infectious leadership was Dee Brown. Champaign desperately needs another four years of that. Not to mention, Goodwin has the ability to tell Tilmon that it's time to make things happen at Illinois. He'd probably listen.
Jeremy Werner, Illini Inquirer publisher
Candidly, I think Jordan Goodwin likely will have a bigger, longer impact on the court for Illinois. Goodwin fills so many needs for Illinois, especially in terms of toughness and culture. Goodwin simply produces and wins. Illinois needs more players who produce and win. But Illinois has landed several top-60 recruits over the last decade (even if I think Goodwin is a bit under-ranked). Illinois hasn't landed enough five-star prospects and pros. In fact, Meyers Leonard is the only five-star prospect Illinois has landed since Dee Brown in 2002. He's also the only Illini drafted since Brown was selected in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft. Jeremiah Tilmon would break both streaks.
Tilmon's biggest impact would be changing the perception of Illinois. His commitment would tell five-star prospects that it's OK to pursue your basketball career through Illinois. His commitment would be a head-turner in the national college basketball and recruiting community unlike any other prospect they realistically have a shot at in 2017. And his commitment likely would make it much more likely that his buddy (Goodwin) would also bring his talents to Champaign.
But Tilmon also could make an even bigger impact as a freshman than Goodwin given the Illini team needs Illinois returns no true centers for the 2017-18 season. Tilmon would make an immediate impact as a rim protector and rebounder. His offensive skill set is growing. He has a few solid moves in the post and has a nice touch into the midrange. He's not DeMarcus Cousins and even might not be Diamond Stone. Tilmon likely will have plenty of struggles as a freshman (as most do), but his paint presence would be felt immediately. He may not be a one-and-done, but he would be the first Illini in a long while to have that kind of potential.
Ryan Easterling, Illini Inquirer recruiting reporter
As tempted as I am to pick a top-tier legacy recruit like Tim Finke, who is undoubtedly a crucial recruit for Illinois, I have to go with one of the obvious two and say Jeremiah Tilmon. Althoff wing Jordan Goodwin is an almost equally crucial recruit for Illinois, but considering the time and effort that have been put into recruiting Tilmon over the last four years or so, losing that battle would be crushing for Illinois, even if he ends up at a "Blue Blood" program. Conversely, though, winning that recruitment could mean a breath of fresh air for a program that desperately needs it.
Tilmon is not-so-secretly tight with Goodwin, another East-metro product, and the two have played AAU together for a couple years now. So landing a guy like Tilmon not only helps restore recruiting credibility to some extent, but also springboards the Illini for their other key target.