LA PORTE, Ind. -- Champaign has felt like home for five-star 2017 center Jeremiah Tilmon, and with a commitment pledge to John Groce and Illinois on Monday, he has made the home-state program just that.
Tilmon announced a list of his top five schools in June: Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State and Texas. But he has had a strong feeling deep down where he's wanted to go for a while. Now, it is official.
"I feel like that's where my heart is telling me to go. Ever since eighth grade, Illinois has been looking at me and believing in me. They've been there since Day One," Tilmon told IlliniInquirer.com. "I take pride in loyalty. Illinois didn't wait for me to blow up to start looking at me. All those other schools did. I have faith in Illinois. That is home for me. So I've decided that's where I'm going to stay."
http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1685385-3-months-of-illini-i... The deeply-rooted relationship that Tilmon has built with Groce and assistant coach Jamall Walker played a key role in keeping the blue-chip recruit inside the state lines. That relationship -- especially with Walker -- proved to win out against overtures from blue bloods like North Carolina and Kansas.
"I feel like if it wasn't for Coach Walker, I wouldn't be going to Illinois. Me and him have the type of relationship that I haven't had with anybody. He's like my older brother, even though he's going to be my coach," Tilmon said. "With Coach Groce, I feel like he believes in me. He's sat down with me on multiple visits and stared right into my eyes and told me how he feels. No other coach did it like that."
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Tilmon's most recent visit to Champaign came late last month, and he notified the staff of his commitment intentions. It wasn't the first time that he told Illinois he was coming. He talked about how the staff reacted when they knew he was on board.
"They were actually surprised. After they found out I wanted to do it a while ago, they were all super excited. Coach Parham said he almost had a heart attack. He went crazy when I told him," Tilmon said. "I was going to do it at DICK'S nationals in April, but I didn't do it. Everybody said: 'man, he's going to go somewhere else'. People got nervous. But it wasn't like that. I just didn't feel comfortable doing it right then. I felt like the time would come for me to do it, and it's now."
"I just feel comfortable doing it. I'm just ready to get it over and be done with some of the circus that comes with recruiting," Tilmon said. "When I put on the Illinois jersey, it's going to feel like home. It's where I want to be."
Landing a top-20 player in the class -- and the highest ranked Illinois commit in the Scout.com era -- is exactly where Illinois and Illini nation want to be. It's the type of home-run addition that Groce has been swinging for since he took over in Champaign. Now, he has it.
The renovations at the State Farm Center may need to include raising the ceiling, because that's what Tilmon's commitment does for the Illinois basketball program in a big way. Illini fans are hungry for their prized program to return to their elusive but not forgotten position as a national contender and perennial power in the Big Ten.
"I feel that we can do that," Tilmon said. "I believe in myself and I believe in the team that we're going to have."
Assembling the pieces around Tilmon is the focal point. The Illini already have commitments from four-star combo guard Da'Monte Williams and three-star forward Javon Pickett in the 2017 class. Tilmon believes more is in store.
"I feel like me committing is going to affect other players. A lot of people have been waiting on me to do it. Many people thought I was just joking around about it. Now that I've done it, we're going to get the ball rolling," Tilmon said. "We've got Da'Monte, me and Javon Pickett. We've got Jalen Coleman-Lands, who will be there and he's a great shooter."
http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1685070-ask-experts-impact-t...Just like Groce, the staff and fans, Tilmon has his eyes set on Belleville Althoff star Jordan Goodwin to be the next piece.
"Now, I'm trying to get J-Good. He's coming with me," Tilmon said. "I've been telling him from Day One that he's coming with me."
The two downstate products have played together with the St. Louis Eagles on the AAU circuit. They have a close-knit bond, and Tilmon's statement move will surely influence Goodwin's decision.
"Jordan has developed into such a great player. It's going to affect a lot," Tilmon said. "It's going to do big things for Illinois."
Scout ranks Tilmon as the No. 19 overall prospect and the No. 7 center in the country in the 2017 rankings. He averaged more than 13 points and eight rebounds per game at La Lumiere last season.
The 6-foot-10 big man is a game-changing talent as a skilled post player with a presence in the paint. He fills a paramount need for the Illini at the center position, and he has the ability to make an immediate impact from the moment he arrives on campus.
The Illini staff and the fan base have gotten hopeful and hurt in the unsuccessful pursuit of five-star talents in previous classes. Questions have been swirling about Groce's ability to steer the ship in the right direction, get the program back to its winning ways and land the best players in one of the most historically fruitful states in the country.
Tilmon's pledge is an emphatic answer that restores hope, and sends shock waves through the state and the basketball landscape as a whole.
Scout.com scouting report
"At 6-10 and equipped with a 7-2 wingspan, Tilmon has good size and length for the center position. Tilmon is a good area rebounder and solid shot blocker. On the offensive end, Tilmon has good hands and touch around the basket. The form on his mid-range jumpers look good. The next step is developing consistency and a go-to move on offensive, as well as consistently playing hard."