Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper breaks down how the Illini are trending with their top targets.
We knew this summer was going to be a hot one for Illinois basketball.
John Groce and his staff have had the heat turned up on them to produce with an opportune 2017 class and a crucial season that will follow. After landing five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon on Monday, the Illini have the chance to catch fire in closing out their recruiting effort with the remaining spots
Combined with fellow in-state products DaMonte Williams and Javon Pickett, Tilmon has helped immediately change the perception of Illinois from a program on the downturn to one in line for a bright future. The class currently ranks No. 3 in the Scout team rankings.
But the big question every Illini fan wants to know: Who's next?
Here is a look at which direction the Illini are trending with their top targets in 2017.
Illinois holds a special place in Jordan Goodwin
's heart. Groce was the first coach to offer him a scholarship. He was there to give him a big hug after Goodwin won the state title this spring. That loyalty carries weight, and so does the attraction to potentially run the show in Champaign with Tilmon. And now that Tilmon has made his move, the spotlight is on Goodwin to follow through on a dynamite pairing. Tilmon had it right with a tweet to Goodwin after his commitment on Monday: "Pressure on you now good". The big man has not been bashful about his confidence in bring Goodwin to Champaign with him. Goodwin's dad said back in the spring that he knew where he wanted his son to go. Goodwin himself called Illinois his leader last summer. The Orange & Blue make all the since in the world right now, and it doesn't seem like it will drag out too long. Goodwin was going to release a top eight this week, but he told IlliniInquirer.com he needed to rethink things. Less than 12 hours before Tilmon's announcement, Goodwin tweeted: "imma make this move". Coincidence? The four-star wing wants to get the love he deserves. He wants to enjoy the process. But Tilmon has already called his shot in landing his buddy, and Goodwin knows what they can accomplish together. The AAU season comes to an end after next week, and it may be time to start the commitment clock not too long after that.
The Illini have been out front with four-star point guard Trent Frazier
for months. Illini assistant coach Dustin Ford
has recruited Frazier better than anyone, and an in-home visit with Ford and Groce led Frazier to calling Illinois his leader. Both coaches have watched him have big showings this week, and Frazier continues to echo the sentiment of Illinois being on top. Frazier will take an official visit to Champaign with his parents in August. There was a chance that he would take one in June, but it was determined that he would be more apt to commit on the spot after the AAU season. Even though Illinois is a plane ride away from south Florida, people around Frazier see the love that Illinois has showed, the opportunity in the Big Ten and the trust that has been established. Frazier didn't mind seeing a five-star big man get added to the class either. There doesn't appear to be a big threat to Illinois in this recruitment right now, and unless that changes, he could turn out to be a steal with how he fits in the ball-screen offense and scores from the perimeter.
Illinois has felt like the window is still open with Indianapolis point guard Paul Scruggs, who postponed a planned visit to Champaign in June. Scruggs' AAU coach Mike Peterson told IlliniInquirer.com that Scruggs will take a visit with his parents to Illinois in August. All along, Scruggs has seemed like not much more than a long shot for the Illini -- unless they were able to put some big-time pieces around him. Well, Scruggs definitely took notice to Tilmon's commitment to Illinois earlier this week. His camp has expressed recent intrigue with Illinois, especially if Goodwin is on the way. A few weeks ago, this looked like an Indiana vs. Xavier battle. Indiana has been recruiting Scruggs since eighth grade. But it appears Xavier has an undeniable lead right now. A source connected to the Xavier camp to IlliniInquirer.com that Chris Mack and his staff are extremely confident, and they feel like they can get it done in a few weeks. Groce and Jamall Walker have tracked Scruggs this week at the UA Finals. They're cautiously hopeful that they will get a swing -- and Illinois doesn't think it's done yet. Xavier is very bullish about their chances. And Indiana seems to be getting nauseous.
Victory Rock Prep (Fla.) big man Mayan Kiir put on a show last week at the adidas Gauntlet event -- proving that he deserves big-time attention. Between Groce and Ford, Illinois was at every one of Kiir's games last week. The Illini have been one of the few contenders in the mix over the last few months, and they've been pushing to be in position for an official visit in the fall. Louisville remains as the major threat, though. Rick Pitino watched Kiir last week too, and the Cardinals made sure to show that he is a significant priority. That isn't good news for Illinois. Kiir is coached by Loren Jackson at Victory Rock Prep, and he was the guardian of Louisville's 2015 signee Deng Adel. Kiir has said that he talks to Adel every day. If Louisville prioritizes Kiir in this class, he is probably theirs to lose. The Illini need Louisville to add someone like Malik Williams to crowd up their frontcourt.
The Illini wanted to get four-star combo guard/wing Nojel Eastern
down for a visit in June, but it didn't happen. He did make it to Michigan for an unofficial visit, though. Eastern told the Illinois staff a few weeks ago that he'd look to visit Champaign in August. He plans to cut his list to five before this month is over, and Illinois has figured to have a good shot at being on it. Eastern will likely be someone who waits until later in the fall to make his decision after seeing where some other pieces end up. If the Illini do land Goodwin, that will likely decrease Illinois' chances given Eastern's desire for immediate playing time. Tilmon told IlliniInquirer.com that he's been in contact with Eastern, but that he'll be a tough add.
Top-40 big man Derek Culver has been high on the Illini wish list, and they have put in a good amount of effort with him. Ford sat courtside to see Culver last week at the adidas event. West Virginia has been considered to have pole position in this recruitment. Culver has been to campus multiple times, and he took a trip to Morgantown last month. Arizona has been in the mix, but they haven't prioritized him to this point. Illinois still feels like they have a shot here, even if it is an outside one.
The Illini were included in the top 13 for three-star forward RaiQuan Gray last month, and Ford has made him a significant part of his Florida pursuit. Gray told IlliniInquirer.com earlier this month that he has a good relationship with Ford, and that the Illini assistant came down to visit him in the spring. Gray is looking for a place with immediate playing time, and Illinois has been selling that there will be an opening after Malcolm Hill's departure. But there will still be competition at the three and four, and adding Goodwin would make that tougher as well. Gray has taken an official visit to Baylor, and he took an unofficial visit to Ole Miss.
Alonzo Verge is a high-major talent with his electric open floor game. He is great at getting to the rim, and he has superb vision in transition as well. But the certainty with Verge's recruitment has been lacking. Illinois got in early with an offer, and they hosted him for a visit last summer. But Verge has been at three different high schools since his sophomore year, and he is looking to transfer to another. There continues to be more questions than answers with his situation.
The Illini extended an offer to three-star center Victor Uyaelunmo
in May, and they have continued to express significant interest. Uyaelunmo plays with Gray on the AAU circuit, and Illinois would like to get both up for a visit in Champaign. Tennessee, Pittsburgh, USC and Vanderbilt hosted Uyaelunmo for visits last month. He has picked up recent offers from Texas A&M and UCONN. Louisville is showing interest as well.
Stevenson forward Justin Smith
seemed to make a lot of sense for the Illini at the outset of the 2017 class. Illinois got involved early with an offer, and both of Smith's parents went to Illinois. But Smith hasn't been as big of a priority as other in-state prospects. In general, there are many programs that are intrigued by Smith's athleticism on the wing but no one seems to be putting the pedal to the floor to get him. Smith could fit into the same category as Mac Irvin Fire product Zach Norvell
, who was thought to be a prime candidate to pick Illinois in the 2016 class. But it never materialized. The Illini continue to be involved with Smith, but there are questions about the level of interest on both sides.
At the beginning of last month, Minneapolis-area center Theo John was working on setting up an official visit to Illinois before making his decision at the end of the month. But things changed after John got a wave of new offers from Florida, Maryland and Purdue. John took an official visit to Purdue last month, and he told IlliniInquirer.com that he was impressed by what the Boilermakers have to offer. John also took an unofficial visit to Minnesota, while he was on campus for their team camp. The Illini have continued to watch John closely, and John continues to say good things about Illinois. But the addition of Tilmon to the 2017 class certainly changes the dynamic of Illinois' sell, which was largely based around opportunity. Recent buzz was suggested that Minnesota is in the best position right now.
Five-star wing Kris Wilkes
took a visit to Champaign last summer, and Illinois has watched him and Scruggs during the live periods. Tilmon told IlliniInquirer.com that the staff wanted him to reach out to Wilkes after jumping on board. But that probably won't move the needle much here.
The Illini got four-star wing Terrence Lewis on campus for a visit in March, and Paris 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. But other schools have been at the forefront. Lewis listed Auburn, Iowa State, Oregon and Xavier as schools in the thick of the race last month. Parham has continued to track hm, though.
Groce and Parham met with three-star forward Christian Negron
back in April, and they had him on campus for the first time in January. Heading into the spring, the Illini were considered one of the top three options for Negron, along with Butler and Iowa. But he hasn't had a great showing on the AAU circuit, especially with his offensive game. Negron is a tweener at 6-foot-7, and he doesn't have the look of a high-major four right now.