Werner Mailbag: July 21

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner answers' premium members questions on Illini football and basketball

burntcheese: Should we worry the longer goodwin takes to make a decision?

divan247: Is it of major concern that Goodwin is waiting on other offers? Do you believe we are in the best shape to land him? What school currently poses the biggest threat to snag him?

The Jeremiah Tilmon commitment has had an effect on Goodwin. Our own Derek Piper reported that Goodwin was set to trim his list earlier this month but those plans changed a bit when Tilmon committed. It's no secret that those two know each other well and that Tilmon has pushed for Goodwin throughout the process, and even more so now that he has committed to Illinois. Illinois has done a heck of a job recruiting Goodwin. They offered him long before any other power-five program and have prioritized him way more than any other power-five program. They attend every game, often two or three coaches deep. But Goodwin has a huge chip on his shoulder. Even if Illinois leads for him, he wants respect from other college coaches in the form of offers. He's received some of those lately, including big offers from Michigan State and Texas. Northwestern also is in the mix. Goodwin is a winner. He wants to go somewhere he can have great success. Without Tilmon, that was a tougher sell for Illinois. With Tilmon, Illinois is in closing position. Maybe Goodwin strings it out a few more weeks or takes a few official visits, but most college coaches know it'll be tough to win this one at this point. I'm not saying to start playing my favorite Semisonic song yet, but have it in the queue.

Grillini: How confident should we be that Frazier signs with Illinois?

Everyone seems to be doubting Frazier's intentions each time he says, "Illinois is my leader." I kinda get it. Usually recruiting is full of read-between-the-lines innuendo, but I think Frazier is just being honest. Illinois has prioritized him longer than anyone else. He blew up a bit this month, and other schools will try to get in, but Frazier already plans a visit to Illinois in August. Most college coaches think Frazier is destined to Illinois, so I'd say they are in a pretty darn good spot. Derek and I have long talked about how Frazier should get more attention. He's a top-75 point guard on this site.He's a great fit for the ball-screen offense (quick, great shooter, leader) and  everything Illinois has needed at the position the last few years. If Frazier follows Tilmon, Illinois will have filled its two biggest holes in the program. And Goodwin would bring the intangibles they so sorely need. As Cosmo Kramer said, "Giddy up!"

karmapoliceman: Do you feel Tilmon committed more to Illinois or to Groce? If the team underperforms again this year and Groce is let go, do you think Tilmon still suits up for us?

It's a bit of both, but if Groce and assistant Jamall Walker are not here for the 2017-18 season, I have major doubts that Tilmon would be here -- unless Illinois finds a coach Tilmon is familiar with. Tilmon liked the opportunities at Kansas and North Carolina. His mother preferred he stay close to home, but it was the long-standing relationship with the Illini staff that really sealed the deal.

TheBeastisBack: who visits earlier between Frazier and Scruggs?

Scruggs has discussed an Illinois visit, but Xavier is the definitive leader right now for the Indiana guard and Illinois appears to be option D, E or F. If you can get him on campus, great. See where it goes from there. But Frazier should be the absolute priority right now, because Illinois is in a closing position there (cue Semisonic whenever he solidifies those visit plans). I'm not sure on a date, and I'm sure Illinois would like to get Scruggs on campus beforehand, but Illinois shouldn't slow-play Frazier for an unlikely chance at Scruggs. Not trying to dodge your question, but Illinois should get Frazier on campus as soon as possible, in my opinion.

BringthePaign: Can you touch on the stigma of high-level recruiting in Chicago (vs. downstate IL and other places), and why certain schools/coaches are seen as anti-Illini?

Honestly, I doubt most coaches/recruits/schools think about Illinois as much as fans think they do. What I mean by that is 1) Illinois just hasn't been that relevant so it's not a top destination for many elite recruits, and 2) I don't think they hate Illinois or think about screwing over Illinois as much as some fans do. They just are more attracted to other programs that are more relevant on the national scene. Chicago is a great resource for Illinois. One of the country's top talent pools is just two hours away. But Chicago is a national talent pool. It's better to look at it, especially inner city, as a nearby out-of-state territory. Of course, with some inner-city recruitments, there appear to be more "handlers" and influences outside of a nuclear family, which has seemed to hurt Illinois. There isn't much "allegiance" to Illinois in the city -- I don't fault recruits for not having an allegiance; they should do what's best for themselves -- where most kids grow up fans of the best programs, not the closest ones. Downstate prospects are closer to the Illini culture. They see more Illini flags and T-shirts in their upbringing, so there's a more natural pull to the state school. That's why it's important that Illinois take advantage of the talent-rich cycles of downstate talent like we're seeing right now (Illinois is 3-for-3 in 2017). Still, Illinois must continue to recruit the heck out of Chicago. It just can't rely on it.

DCTHREE: How does basketball recruiting work? It seems very "conditional" in that while they might send out a handful of offers, there seems to be a hierarchy (they want to wait for Goodwin before accepting a verbal from a lower guard they might have offered). How do coaches ride that line with recruits? Is it all upfront as "We really want you to be part of this team, however we have higher priorities..."

Good question, but there's no definitive answer. The best policy is to only extend scholarship offers to kids you'd take a commitment from. But if you don't offer a prospect early -- if you're a program like Illinois -- it may be difficult to win those recruitments. Some coaches will be perfectly honest with where prospects stand in the pecking order, but most will show recruits where they stand by their level of interest (calls, messages, how many times they watch their games, etc.) in them and the level of interest in other recruitments. For instance, Jordan Goodwin knows he's a priority. Illinois talks to him as much as they can under NCAA rules. Illinois shows up to all his games. But Christian Negron knows the Illini's interest has waned. There's not one way that all coaches approach this, and sure feelings do get hurt during this process.

IlliniDave34: When will the rest of the basketball schedule be released (including dates)? I know there are news releases every few weeks with non-conference opponents but I assume the official schedule should be released before schools starts. Are the conference opponents (home and home versus just one game) determined years ahead of time like football?

The schedule is usually released in August or early September. Most of the "premier" nonconference opponents have been announced. The Big Ten opponents have been announced, but the dates have not yet been released. Some basketball series are locked in for a few years at a time (recently, Gonzaga is an example), but there isn't a rush to schedule basketball games like there are football because they are so much easier to schedule.

Goober30: How great of an importance do you place on the wins and losses of this season? Specifically, if Lovie pulls and 8 win season out of the hat --- is recruiting about to explode?? Alternatively, if we miss a bowl game does that temper some of the positive vibes around the program.

Wins -- especially 8! -- would be huge. So would a few high draft picks, like Smoot, Nickerson, Clements and Lunt. It'd show that the Illini staff can lift Illinois and its players to their best. It'd build a lot of buzz heading into a 2017 year that has a low ceiling due to past recruiting failures. Missing a bowl game wouldn't kill Illinois, but it would temper their efforts and force them to sell vision and hope, which is still a solid sell in Year 2 (Zook did well with it) but it's a tougher sell because it's a leap of faith. Basically, a great 2016 season could expedite the building efforts. An unspectacular 2016 would make this a more gradual rebuild -- though it'll likely be gradual anyway.

bohnjensen: What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Pssssh! Easy! 24 mph! OK, like Melania, I had some help.

illinivol: Game by game predictions for Illinois football

Murray State - win (1-0)

North Carolina - loss (1-1)

Western Michigan -  win (2-1)

at Nebraska - loss (2-2)

Purdue - win (3-2)

at Rutgers - win (4-2)

at Michigan - loss (4-3)

Minnesota - win (5-3)

Michigan State - loss (5-4)

at Wisconsin - loss (5-5)

Iowa - loss (5-6)

at Northwestern - loss (5-7)

I'M SO TORN on this team because I think the defense can be pretty good, but my head keeps telling me that Illinois will be really thin by the end of the season. I just have serious concerns about the offense and depth, but I think great coaching and health give this team a chance at a ceiling of seven wins (maybe eight if everything goes perfect).

tomisi9: Which program is more crucial to the long term success of the U of I athletic program. in Other words between Football and Basketball which one can't Whitman fail in. I ask this because when it comes to investing resources these are decisions the AD must make.

Football, no question. It usually brings in more than three times more revenue than basketball, driven by increased television revenue and ticket sales (even in bad years). More fans want basketball to be better because there's a history there, but a healthy football program means a healthy athletics program. Whitman showed football is the priority by investing unprecedented resources into the program. I also expect him to prioritize football facility improvements over a new basketball practice facility (though Illinois eventually should raise money for both). Revenue from great football programs (Florida, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, Michigan etc.) seems to trickle down to the other sports more so than revenue from a great basketball program (Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Duke, etc.)

HHSIllini: What are Bellamy and Ricker up to?

Mike Bellamy took a support staff internship at Mississippi State. A.J. Ricker and most of the other assistants are sitting out this season. They are collective severance from Illinois but that severance is voided if they take a paying job elsewhere. There was no offset language in the contracts they signed. With limited jobs available when they were dismissed, their options were pretty limited.

BoSox0407: What's your opinion on trading Chris Sale? Will Wes Lunt reach 3500 passing yards if he can stay healthy? Kanye West or Taylor Swift ? ha

1) I'd only trade Sale for the best package of prospects ever. I doubt anyone is willing to pay that price. But Sale is one of the top-five pitchers in the league on one of the best deals in baseball. You don't sell him for 60 or 70 cents on the dollar to start a rebuild. But if someone with a deep farm system (Astros, Red Sox, etc.) is willing to sell that farm for Sale, I'd listen. The White Sox have ignored reality for too long. It's time to rebuild, but that can be done with Sale on the roster. Right now, I'd put David Robertson, Zach Duke, James Shiels, MIguel Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera, Todd Frazier and even Jose Abreu on the trading block. The Sox have a pitching core to build around (Sale, Quintana, Rodon, Fulmer, Burdi and Nate Jones) but they need long-term position players and professional hitters. I am encouraged by their 2016 draft.

2) I have confidence that Wes has the ability to reach those numbers -- he would have been close to those numbers last year, but 60 drops cost him about 600 yards -- but I don't think he will reach that number because 1) Garrick McGee probably won't pass enough to reach that number, and 2) I don't think he has the talent around him to reach that number.

3) I choose C - Justin Timberlake

Spille18: Illini Dunk contest, of all Illini bball players past and present, who you got to win it?

Boy, that's tough. From what I've seen on film, Kenny Battle would be the odds-on favorite. But I'd love to see Marcus Liberty, Roger Powell, Meyers Leonard (he's a freak), Joseph Bertrand and Brian Randle compete against him. Rayvonte Rice might have a thunder slam or two in him as well.

zsandef: Any update on football renovations? Both current (coaches' offices) and future (south endzone)?

The recruitng offices were expanded by tearing a wall down to combine the recruiting office and the former players' lounge. Nothing yet on football facility. I plan to talk with Whitman soon and ask him. But he was still evaluating facility plans this fall. Warren Hood has a lot of experience with those facility renovations (football and basketball) and is a great resource for Whitman there. And new top fund-raiser Howard Milton surely will be a key figure in any new renovation project.

JacobDaugherty: What appears to be the plan for next year on the d line? Juco? 5th year? How many do you expect them to take on the d line in this class?

Hope and pray? The group looks really weak next year, especially on the edge (I'll break that down below). The staff wants to add four or five DL in the 2017 class, and is focused mostly on prep prospects. This is a long-term build, not a quick fix. They would take a Jihad Ward-like prospect, but those are hard to find. The Illini will not be suckered in to adding JUCO prospects who will never crack the two-deep, like the previous staff. There's always pressure to win, but Lovie isn't facing a make-or-break season in 2017 or anything. He needs to do what's best for the long haul.

nsurufka: Know it is very far away but what is your project starting football lineup for next season (2017)?

Here's my best shot based on their current players and commits.

QB Jimmy Fitzgerald so / Jeff George Jr. so Chayce Crouch jr / Cam Thomas fr
RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn jr R.Corbin so /K. Foster sr/Tre Nation fr / Dre Brown so
WR Malik Turner sr Sam Mays jr
WR Mike Dudek jr Des Cain jr / MJ McGriff so
WR Dominic Thieman so Ricky Smalling fr
TE Zarrian Holcombe so / Caleb Reams r-so Andrew Trainer r-fr / Griffin Palmer r-fr
OT Christian DiLauro sr Megginson / Jake Cerny r-fr
G Gabe Megginson r-so Allegretti / Vederian Lowe fr
C Nick Allegretti r-jr Zeke Martin, r-so
G Zach Heath sr / Darta Lee r-fr Kurt Gavin, r-fr
OT Adam Solomon r-so Eddy Fish r-fr / Jordan Fagan sr

A few notes above. Some of the guys I list as sophomores could be redshirt freshmen. DiLauro has the possibility of leaving early. It's a really young offensive line group otherwise, but a more physical group. I'll write more about this in the position primer, but I do think it will be a Fitz-George battle at quarterback.

DE Sean Adesanya sr Brandon Jones r-fr
DT Jamal Milan, r-so Kenyon Jackson r-fr
DT Tito Odenigbo, r-jr
DE Henry McGrew r-jr Tymir Oliver, r-fr
WLB James Crawford sr Justice Williams r-so / Ayo Shogbonyo r-fr
MLB Tre Watson r-jr Dele Harding so / C. Abercrombie r-fr
SLB Julian Jones jr Jake Hansen r-fr / Marc Mondesir fr
CB Jaylen Dunlap sr Chris James r-jr / Frank Sumpter r-so
CB Cameron Watkins r-so Stanley Green r-fr / Ahmari Hayes sr
FS Darwyn Kelly sr Trenard Davis so / Harvey Clayton Jr. r-fr
SS Evan Jones, so  Patrick Nelson r-so

I like that linebacker group, and I'm intrigued by the defensive backs (though safety has questions). But that defensive line, especially the defensive ends, might be the worst in the Big Ten -- and I'm a huge fan of Milan and think Odenigbo will be solid.

Needless to say, with the major questions at QB, OL and DL, I think 2017 will be a struggle.

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