Belleville East wing Javon Pickett was the all-important first get for John Groce in the 2017 class, and Groce sat courtside at the NY2LA Summer Jam to see him this past weekend.
Pickett played well in the tournament, especially on Saturday in a close win over the Iowa Barnstormers. He made plays all over the floor on his way to a 20-point outing in the elimination game.
"I feel like I'm playing pretty well right now," Pickett told IlliniInquirer.com on Saturday. "I'm knocking down my jump shots. I'm getting to the basket, rebounding, finding my teammates. So I feel like I'm doing everything I can to help my team, and I feel good about my game."
Pickett's natural ability to score has been well documented after he averaged more than 23 points per game last season and was a first-team Class 4A All-State selection by the Associated Press. The 6-foot-4 guard is smooth off the dribble, he has a nice pull-up game and he can finish around the basket.
"I feel like the strong points of my game are my jump shot and being able to get my teammates involved. I've been playing pretty good defense. I've worked on that a lot," Pickett said. "I still want to work on my defense, shooting, ball-handling and just being a great leader."
Pickett's athleticism isn't talked about enough, at least based on what he showed on Saturday. On the break, Pickett threw down a ferocious one-handed flush with a defender positioned under the basket. He has been working to become more explosive.
"I've been working on that, especially for when I get to college. It was just the right opportunity," Pickett said. "I saw the defender was going to jump with me if I laid it up. So I came in strong and threw it down."
Groce had to like what he saw. And Pickett loves seeing him in the stands for his games.
"It's real big. I just feel like that means that he loves me. We're building a bond together. For him to come out, that means that he cares about me," he said. "I care about him. I know the program cares about me, so that's real big."
Illinois' 2017 class has the potential to be 'real big' as well. Pickett was the first piece. Then came Da'Monte Williams. And last Monday, the Illini hit a home-run with five-star big man Jeremiah Tilmon.
Pickett talked about his reaction to that, and what it means to have his friend on board.
"I felt real excited," he said. "I'm glad I don't have to go against him. That was a big piece for us. To have a 6-foot-10 body down there being able to contest shots and get his own shots down low, that's going to help us a lot."
Pickett added that he has been in constant contact with Tilmon for quite a while.
"I've been talking to him all the time," he said. "I knew when he was going to commit and stuff like that. I just told him congratulations, and that we need to hangout when we're both back home."
"I talk to him all the time, but I don't know what he's going to do," Pickett said. "He blew up. Hopefully, we can get him."
What happens if the Illini can complete the metro-east trio?
"If we're able to get him, I think we'll show the talent that the 618 has to offer. I feel like we'll go in there and we can all contribute in some type of way," Pickett said. "I just think we can do big things with each other. We'll have a great bond going in. If we get him, I'll love that."