Five Illini takeaways from live periods thus far

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper breaks down five Illini hoops takeaways from the July live periods thus far.

1. Jordan Goodwin landscape takes new shape

As expected, John Groce and his staff have showed Jordan Goodwin the love that a culture-changing target deserves this summer. The Illini have not missed a single game of his during the live periods this spring and summer, and that won't change as the AAU season concludes this weekend. Goodwin called Illinois his leader last summer, and the home-state program has held that position. They dug in even deeper with the commitment of five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon.

The Illini appear to be the evident choice, but Goodwin wants to make sure the selection is best for his future. With the four-star wing tearing up the circuit, we knew that other programs wouldn't go down without a fight. Heading into this month, it looked like Michigan State and Texas would be the main challengers for the Orange and Blue. Both programs present an opportunity to play for high-profile coaches in Tom Izzo and Shaka Smart. But those coaches have not made Goodwin a top priority, which is a requirement to land him. It's no secret that Goodwin entered the AAU season wanting to garner the attention, offers and love that his game deserves. While his team struggled to register wins against top competition at Peach Jam, Goodwin certainly answered the call. He averaged 21.8 points, 11 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.6 steals per game. Just as Tilmon told, Goodwin has wanted to see how much he would 'blow up' before focusing in on his choice. We have reached that stage. Based on recent buzz, it appears that Northwestern is the opponent that has shown Goodwin the necessary effort, love and opportunity to be a threat to Illinois.

Goodwin plans to cut his list to five sometime in the next two weeks, and he has said he will take a few official visits. Illinois and Northwestern look to be likely destinations for officials, and if those remain as his top two, the Illini should feel good. And they definitely do right now.

2. All-in on Trent Frazier

The Illini have done an outstanding job of prioritizing four-star point guard Trent Frazier, while developing a strong relationship with him, his family and his high school coach. Frazier called Illinois his leader after an in-home visit with Groce and assistant coach Dustin Ford in April, and they have maintained that position. Ford identified Frazier's talent before most last summer, and he has put in more work than any other coach involved in this recruitment.

Frazier blew up on the national scene last week after a slew of eye-popping performances at the Best of the South showcase. He was the talk of the tournament with multiple 30-point outings. is the only major rankings service that currently has Frazier in their top 100 in the 2017 class, but that looks to be fit to change. Other programs have come on with interest and offers. Frazier picked up an offer from Memphis this week. Cincinnati, Clemson and Seton Hall are some others that have become involved. But Illinois has an enviable position. Frazier told on Thursday that he has an official visit to Champaign locked in for August 19-21. He has taken notice to the loyalty that the staff has shown, as they've been courtside at every one of his games recently. Frazier has felt the love that has been sent in waves from the Illini fan base. "Feels like home already," Frazier said about Illinois.

After landing Tilmon, there were questions about whether Illinois could power-play their position with top-40 point guard Paul Scruggs from Indianapolis. Scruggs' camp showed increased intrigue in Illinois after Tilmon's pledge. But multiple sources have indicated that Scruggs is likely to be Xavier-bound. The Illini have adjusted accordingly, and they've made Frazier their unquestioned top priority at the position. It remains to be seen if Frazier will take visits before heading to Illinois next month. But as things sit right now, it appears that Illinois will be his final stop.

3. Mayan Kiir is next on the wish list

Goodwin and Frazier are the top two targets of focus for Illinois. Adding those two would give them five commits in the 2017 class, and that would put them in position to have a top-10 class in the country at the very least. But the Illini have the ability to add one more with another unused scholarship in the mix. If Frazier and Goodwin are the next dominoes to fall, it looks like Illinois knows who they'd like to be next: Mayan Kiir.

The 6-foot-9 power forward presents plenty of length and athleticism at the position. He runs the floor like a deer, blocks shots, rebounds and finishes at the rim. Kiir has played like a top-100 talent this month, and the Illini have tracked him closely. Through the first two days at the adidas Uprising tournament in Vegas this week, Kiir has averaged 15.3 points and 10.7 boards per contest. Ford has been at every one of his games.

Kiir holds big offers from Illinois, Louisville, N.C. State and VCU. Louisville entered the summer as the team to beat given their early position and connection to Victory Rock Prep head coach Loren Jackson. Kiir is close with Louisville sophomore Deng Adel, who also moved to the United States from Australia. Jackson was Adel's legal guardian.

But Louisville has prioritized four-star big man Malik Williams, and some experts view the Cardinals as the favorites for him. Illinois is optimistic about their chances with Kiir if Louisville lands Williams. They feel Kiir would be a great complementary piece to pair with Tilmon in the frontcourt, and that would give them plenty of options to mix and match at the four and five positions.

4. Movement with in-state 2018 prospects

Much has been said about the talent that lies within the state lines in the 2017 class, but the next wave of incoming juniors deserves their own recognition. The in-state 2018 class has star power headlined by five-star point guard Ayo Dosunmu from Morgan Park. The 6-foot-3 scoring playmaker continues to separate himself from the rest of the pack in Illinois. Dosunmu is wired to fill it up with his smooth handle, court vision and ability to get to the rack at will. Despite his unorthodox release, he has showed an ability to get hot from three as well. Dosunmu is a star in the making.

Champaign product Tim Finke is next in line. Finke dropped from being a top-25 prospect in the class to No. 51 in the latest rankings. He didn't set the world on fire this spring in his EYBL circuit debut. But that doesn't change what's in store for him down the road. Finke made some significant strides with his play at Peach Jam earlier this month. He averaged 9.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game during the tournament, while shooting 51.4 percent from the field. He stepped up in a big way in a battle against California Supreme, as he totaled 23 points and hit four threes. He also showed cold-blooded moxie by hitting three clutch free throws with less than one second left on the clock to send the game into overtime. Finke also shot 54.5 percent from deep at Peach Jam, which was major improvement from the spring. There is potential for movement in the rankings after Dosunmu and Finke. There is a battle for the third spot right now. Simeon combo guard Kezo Brown has upped his game as the AAU season has progressed. After missing most of the high school season with an illness, Brown has made progress to regain his quickness and motor. Those were staples of his game coming up as a young sensation up in Chicago. Brown has also established a dead-eye stroke from the outside, which has the potential to expand his game in a big way when he puts it all together. He and Dosunmu have been an electric backcourt tandem with the Mac Irvin Fire 16U squad this summer.

You can't forget Talen Horton-Tucker either. He continues to impress as a big-bodied wing with loads of skill and a smooth stroke. Horton-Tucker has fantastic handles for his size, and he uses his body to bully his way to the basket. He is a more than capable shooter from three as well. The Simeon teammates -- Brown and Horton-Tucker -- look to be the main contenders for the No. 3 designation. Whitney Young point guard Xavier Castaneda is in the conversation too. Castaneda has all the intangibles that you want at the point guard position: leadership, toughness, basketball IQ, vision and end-to-end speed. He needs to show more with his jumper, though.

5. 2019 class is filled with possibility

The 2017 class is absolutely huge for the Illini staff. It comes at a pivotal time in Groce's tenure, and it has the potential to jump-start the program heading into the future. The 2019 class is a ways down the road, but it will carry a lot of weight as well. Currently, Illinois is set to graduate five players after the 2018-19 season. That leaves the Illini with their work cut out for them to fill those spots with an influx of talent. Groce and his staff have already made headway by hosting a number of 2019 targets last month, and they've extended a number of offers too. Luckily for them, there is plenty of talent on the horizon. Inside the state, it all starts with Normal West big man Francis Okoro. The 6-foot-9 post player has been a standout performer for the St. Louis Eagles 16U squad. Okoro already has a long, muscular frame at a young age. He is still rather raw offensively, but he his developing moves -- including a promising right hook. For now, he is a force in the paint on the glass, defensively and with his ability to hammer it home. Okoro can get out and run the floor as well.

His AAU teammate, five-star power forward James Wiseman, is already on the Illini radar. Illinois extended an offer this month. Wiseman plays his high school ball down in Nashville, Tenn. He is No. 5 overall in the 2019 rankings. The competition will be fierce for Wiseman, but if Illinois is able to land Goodwin and Tilmon, that could present a valuable relationship with the St. Louis Eagles program that could pay dividends. Wiseman is long, athletic and skilled at 6-foot-9.

Speaking of program relationships, the Illini continue to further theirs with La Lumiere. Illinois already has Jalen Coleman-Lands on the roster. Tilmon is on the way. And this week, they added Drew Cayce as a walk-on from Creighton -- who played at La Lu with Coleman-Lands. Illinois has strong ties with La Lumiere coach Shane Heirman, and that could come in handy with 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell in the future. Illinois was one of the first offers for Campbell last summer, and the young lead guard continues to impress with his savvy and playmaking ability beyond his years. The Illini are very high on in-state point guard Marquise Walker, who called Illinois his leader after getting an offer on his visit to Champaign last month. Walker helped lead Nike Team Florida to the 15U Peach Jam title earlier this month. The St. Joe's product proved to be a promising talent at the state tournament last March, and much more is in store. He is great in the pick 'n roll with his vision, ability to hit the mid-range, get to the basket and absorb contact with his frame.

Another 2019 target that is worthy of high praise is Belleville West power forward EJ Liddell. The 6-foot-6 four-man is a physical presence down low who can finish with authority and get after it on the boards. Liddell was impressive at the Peach Invitational earlier this month. He dominated the competition at the 15U level with the St. Louis Eagles. Liddell adds a high motor and an increasing amount of explosion to his game. He has the potential to grow another inch or two, and if he does, look out.

Finally, you can't forget about the talent that is stashed on the Mac Irvin Fire 15U roster. Morgan Park wing L.J. Johnson is a scoring machine with his athleticism and knack for attacking off the dribble. Simeon point guard Kejuan Clements is an up-and-comer to watch. Bloomington HS forward Chris Payton has big upside with his length and explosion. He is always a threat to put you on a poster.

But the one that takes the cake is Uplift point guard Markese Jacobs. He is nicknamed "The Show" for a reason. Jacobs is only 5-foot-11, but he has Lewis Jackson-type bounce. He can score in bunches off the dribble and with his jumper. He is flat out explosive, and that's a big reason why Kansas jumped on board with an offer last week. Some evaluators feel that Jacobs has more long-term upside than Walker because of his athleticism.

As a whole, the landscape is primed for the Illini to do some damage with 2019 targets in their breadbasket when the time comes.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories