Piper mailbag: July 29

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper answers all your Illini hoops and recruiting questions in the latest mailbag.

Trent Frazier has put out a list, but has he given a date when he will commit?

He has not. In fact, he hasn't put out a list yet. Just posted his offers to this point, and he is looking to cut a list soon.

As for a decision timeline, Trent has to figure out if he wants to take any other official visits. Going to talk to him this weekend. I still don’t think it goes long after his official visit to Champaign. In fact, I’d put him on commit watch when he steps on campus with his family – based on what I’ve been hearing for a while now.

As you mentioned previously, it seems Malik Williams is trending toward Louisville, which pushes Mayan Kiir towards Illinois. What is your current take on Kiir's status with us?

As I’ve been saying, Illinois feels like they have a real shot if Louisville lands Williams. The Illini made him feel like a big priority on the circuit in July. Dustin Ford has made in-roads with him and his high school coach. I’ve heard that Louisville doesn’t feel like they’ll land both. N.C. State got in the mix with a recent offer. Others could potentially emerge late.

But as Louisville continues to take steps toward landing Williams, Illinois will be pushing for an official visit and selling Kiir on getting significant minutes at the four right away.

Does Scout have a Louisville Derek Piper that you can reach out to find out about Williams?

There is only one Derek Piper. People in the Louisville market, and even nationally, think the Cardinals are in strong position with Williams.

Given how hot Groce is about Frazier, how do you square that with the good-but-not-great ranking of the kid?

Scout has had him as a top-100 point guard for quite some time. Others have been slow to catch on because he didn’t play on the shoe brand stage. But ESPN analyst Reggie Rankin recently said Frazier is the guy that has best positioned himself to go from the outside to the inside of their top 100.

Seeing what a player can do, how he fits and what he can become is far more important than a number attached to his name. Illinois saw these things before most.

Will Tracy Abrams be the starting PG?

If he stays healthy and continues to progress, he is definitely in line to be the starting point.

Can you do a story on Kiir and/or Epperson?

Talking to Kiir’s coach next week. Will get in contact with Epperson.

Was the staff higher on Moore or Frazier, and who do you personally think will have the better career (regardless of where Frazier ends up of course).

It was easier for the staff to be higher on Moore being that the spotlight was on him up in Chicago and on the EYBL circuit. As for their games, Frazier is and Moore was an ideal fit to the system with offensive skills that have been missing from the program at point guard.

Both will shoot the ball at a high level. Both will make plays in transition and off the ball-screen. I think Moore will do more as a facilitator. Frazier may shoot a higher percentage from deep. Better college career having to pick one? Give me Moore by a slight margin. Of course, that’s in a vacuum. Surrounding pieces will play a factor.

Derek, If Illinois rounds the class off with Goodwin, Frazier, and Kiir where does out recruiting class rank in the B1G? In the entire country?

I think that would be the best class in the Big Ten. Michigan State has plenty of spots to fill as well. Getting Brian Bowen would give them their five-star to match Illinois’ in Tilmon. They could end up with Nojel Eastern and some others. Wisconsin has a good class lined up early. But they don’t have star power.

Ultimately, it’d be extremely tough for another Big Ten team to match a class that would have at least four top-100 players. At least two should be top-50. Kiir could be a fifth in the top 100. Da’Monte currently looks like he’ll be just on the outside, and Javon will probably be a high three-star.

As for how it would stand nationally, that’s a top-10 class.

Groce seems to have found some things along the way in recruiting so do you see Groce leading Illinois to a B1G title in the next five years or so?

If he lands the type of class he’s capable of this fall and Tilmon stays two years, I think Illinois is in line to be a Big Ten title contender in 2018-19. That would leave Jalen Coleman-Lands, Leron Black, Michael Finke, D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan as seniors. Kipper Nichols and Te’Jon Lucas will be juniors. And that stellar 2017 class will have a year under their belt and be even closer to realizing their potential. If there is a subtraction from that bunch, Illinois would also have a chance to add an impact freshman (ex. Ayo Dosunmu).

What is your favorite fast food stop when you are traveling around the country talking to these kids?

Thanks for bringing this up. It was a long month, and the only prescription is more crunches. Wendy’s is my go-to spot. Taco Bell made a good run this year, though.

On a serious note, what have you heard about the progression of DJ Williams and Aaron Jordan this offseason? With a bunch of talent on its way to campus, I'm wondering if these guys won't have the playing time they were hoping for come 2017 and 2018.

Programs do a good job of extending the ‘(insert name) looks good’ narrative during the summer. The staff doesn’t get to spend much time with them. Even then, they like to maintain an environment for growth without outside noise – which they have plenty of during the season.

That being said, I’ve heard that Aaron’s jumper looks smoother. He’s put up a lot of shots. He's working to realize his potential as a spot-up shooter. He’s been working on his game off the dribble as well. D.J. has been working on his jump shot too. I know the program feels optimistic about his ability to build off flashes of success last season.

With Goodwin extending his decision timeline out to late October, do you see Terrance Lewis and Nojel Eastern getting a more serious look from the staff? Not only as insurance in case Goodwin goes elsewhere, but to also put pressure on Goodwin to commit sooner?

For starters, I think Goodwin actually makes his decision before late October. Illinois will continue to pursue Lewis and Eastern. Can they put pressure on Goodwin through those guys? I don’t know about that. Goodwin knows that he is the goal for this staff, and they’ll do what they have to in order to have the perfect sell when he’s ready. Like I said, I think that time comes sooner than what he led on.

After a recruit gives his verbal commitment, is the staff allowed to contact them at any time, or do they still have to obey the NCAA contact policies? Same question for after they sign their LOI.

A verbal commitment does not add any limitation to contact. After they sign their LOI, other programs cannot reach out to the player without a release.

If Frazier decides to go elsewhere what's or who is plan B

I think the staff would look to see what else is out there. But they’re pretty invested in Frazier. Paul Scruggs is still in the mix, and his camp has lined up an official visit to Illinois in early September. But there's a good chance he won't make it that far with Illinois likely being an outside shot at best. Beyond that, I think they would hope that Da’Monte could be ready to play some backup point. They could also hold a scholarship for a fifth-year point guard in the spring.

If Malcolm Hill DOES NOT make 1st Team All B1G, you will be:

A) Shocked and dismayed
B) Not surprised due to the top tier level of talent in the conference
C) Confident that the voting is rigged

If Malcolm Hill DOES make 1st Team All America, you will be:

A) Shocked and amazed
B) Not surprised due to his top tier talent level
C) Confident that the voting is rigged

A-1. A-2. Did I sink your battleship?

Could Goodwin be a top-30 player by the time the final rankings come out?

Top-30 is probably too much to ask. Top-50 should have been done yesterday. I’d argue for top-40.

As a sports writer, what do you make of the trend toward substituting the demonstrative adjective "that" for the articles "a," an," and "the"? Here and elsewhere, people are increasingly referring to "that stretch four" or "that pure point guard" (rather than the more common "a stretch four") as if we lived in a world of Platonic forms. What's the appeal?

I knew that question I left blank on my journalism final exam would find me eventually.

In certain contexts, it can give more purpose to the description. Trent Frazier is an up-tempo, score-first lead guard. Trent Frazier is that up-tempo, score-first lead guard that John Groce needs to run his ideal style of offense.

Jeremiah Tilmon is a five-star commit. Jeremiah Tilmon is that five-star commit that Illinois has been swinging for in recent classes.

How’d I do?

What's the Ceiling and Floor for our 2017 Commits? Is Da’Monte an All-Big Ten player type? Tilmon All-American?

Jeremiah Tilmon

Ceiling: Big Ten Freshman of the Year, first-round pick in 2018 NBA Draft. All-Big Ten first-teamer and lottery pick in 2019 draft if he stays for his sophomore season.

Floor: Injury prone, limited development of back-to-the-basket skill set, minimal progress between first two seasons, second-round pick in 2020 draft after decent junior season.

Da’Monte Williams

Ceiling: First-team All-Big Ten as a senior, second/third-team All-Big Ten as a junior, impact player as a freshman, capable high-major point guard, 35-percent shooter from deep, 2021 NBA Draft pick.

Floor: Lost in the backcourt shuffle for first two seasons, doesn’t flip competitive switch, doesn’t develop stroke or handles, finishes career in Calvin Brock-like fashion (nowhere close to ‘Peoria’s finest’).

Javon Pickett

Ceiling: Two-year Big Ten starter, role player on successful teams.

Floor: Redshirt and career bench player (or transfer).

What should we expect from AJ next year?

Expect him to play backup minutes at the two behind JCL. He should be a good spot-up shooter, who can shoot between 35 and 40 percent from three. You’d expect him to be better defensively. I don't think this is the year where it clicks, but he'll be better.

How is Maverick Morgan looking? Has the confidence he built the second half of last year, combined with the work he has put in the weight room, made him look like a different player? Is he the starting 5 this year?

I’ve heard good things about Mav. Like you said, he walks into the gym with a lot of confidence in his game. He doesn’t hesitate with his moves. He knows what he wants to do with the ball once it gets in his hands. He’s gotten stronger, but more importantly, I’ve been told he is more athletically fluid. He’s moving better with his feet, and he just looks smoother. If healthy, Mike Thorne Jr. is your starting center.

My buddy owns Quality Bar downtown Champaign. Have you ever been there? Great job on all this coverage really worth the subscription and then some.

I was there back in May. Met a few of my buddies up there. Enjoyed my draft IPA.

You mentioned that your "girlfriend" is a "hairdresser".
Full disclosure: does she actually work at a barber shop and occasionally operate under the online persona of g0? Is that where you really get your information?

She works at a salon. Not a message board dweller to my knowledge. She hears me talk about recruiting probably far more than she’d like. But she’s always informed. Probably has her own subscription setup, which includes insider info at the shampoo bowl.

Outside of Goodwin, Frazier, and Kiir, who are the next 2-3 players for everyone to keep their eye on for 2017? If it's not those three do we start to look at scholarships going to 2018?

I could say Terrence Lewis, Justin Smith and Nojel Eastern in the case that Illinois doesn’t get Goodwin. But most people have been paying attention to them. I’ll say keep eyes out for Victor Uyaelunmo and Jacob Epperson as post options if Kiir doesn’t work out.

If the Illini fail to get one of the players mentioned in your question and can’t fill the gap with one of the players I stated, I think you look at holding it for a fifth-year option and opening up the scholarship for the 2018 class.


There appears to be a perception that the new S&C coach, Fletcher, is making a huge difference with the team already. Do you believe this to actually be true? Or, does it just appear that way because he has a very active twitter account and is always posting the players gains in the weight room? If he is actually making that big of a difference... was our last S&C just a joke or something? Just seems odd to me, but good if true I guess.

Everyone I talk to around the program absolutely loves Fletch. I think he brings a new energy and excitement to the weight room. He’s very methodical and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to developing individuals based on their needs for improvement and ultimate goals as players. I truly think he’s done a really good job so far. Just take a look at Malcolm. We’ll get to see all the differences in the fall for basketball media day.

I can’t speak on the last strength coach that was here. But like you said, Fletch lets everyone see the work they’re putting in and how the players are progressing. He’s the real deal. Does he win the team ballgames? No, but if helps with injury prevention and induces positive transformations, he is playing his part. And that’s what this program needs.


If you and Jeremy went head to head, who would win the following competitions?:

1.       Arm Wrestling

2.       Greco Roman Wrestling

3.       A game of Horse

4.       A game of 1 on 1 (1's and 2's to 11)

5.       Ping Pong

6.       Punt, Pass & Kick

7.       Tug of War

8.       40 yard dash

9.       100 Meter freestyle swim

10.   Hot dog eating contest

11.   Rock, Paper, Scissors (Best of 3)

12.   Interpretive Dance (Judged by Brian Snow)

1. Jeremy – I’ve used leverage and a not necessarily legal wrist roll to beat stronger opponents in the past. That being said, Jeremy beats me.

2. Jeremy – Low man wins.

3. DP – My off-the-elbow shot is a nightmare for my opponents.

4. DP – Ball so hard.

5. Jeremy – Never a great ping pong player. Beer pong, though…

6. DP – My arm will hopefully make up for my porous kicking ability.

7. Jeremy – He spends adequate time in one gym. I spend mine in another.

8. DP – Long strides.

9. DP – Move pretty well in the water. Do not float.

10. Jeremy – He won a frat eating contest. What else is there to say?

11. DP -- Play rock, paper, scissors for home team in 2K. I’m usually home team.

12. Draw – Snow walks out as soon as the music starts.

Considering we already have Lucas in the fold and assuming we close on Frazier next month.....Then what would you gauge our chances at Ayo Dosunmo next year? I'm thinking he becomes a long shot at that point.....Although I recognize, he may have already been a long shot. But, I hope there is a path somehow.  

Where do we stand with Finke and Ayo? Do you feel good on our chances with them?

Ayo is a five-star point guard. If his heart says he wants to go to Illinois, he’s probably not going to be afraid of Lucas and Frazier. I think Illinois has done a good job with him so far. He likes Groce and the staff. So does his family. They enjoyed themselves in Champaign in June, and I know they liked what they saw. Based on his offers right now, I think Illinois is right up there at the top.

That being said, there’s no guarantee there will be a spot in the 2018 class. If Ayo wants to come, Illinois will figure it out. The issue here is that Ayo is going to absolutely blow up in the next 12 months. If he lives up to his ceiling, there will be blue bloods involved. He’s already one of the top four point guards in the 2018 class. If he stays there or elevates, he’ll essentially be able to go wherever he wants. That would make things tough on Illinois, who have a tough enough time with Morgan Park point guards.

As for Tim, I’ve never gotten the impression that he isn’t interested in Illinois – if not very interested. In fact, I think he has purposely downplayed his feelings on Illinois externally in the past so other programs don’t shy away. Tim spends quite a bit of time hanging out with Michael and his Illinois teammates. He goes up to Ubben for open gyms. He knows the coaching staff well.

Yes, it is true that Tim is not afraid to pave his own path. We’ve said this all along. He wants to make his own decision, which will be in his best interest. The problem with Illinois is that they are set to be stockpiled on the wing – especially if they get Goodwin. Tim is talented enough to get early playing time at a high-major program. Illinois’ roster may make that tougher than other destinations. As I’ve said, there’s no guarantee that they’ll have a spot.

With that in mind, I’d say Finke landing in Champaign may be less likely than we originally thought. But in my opinion, it’s mostly a product of the 2017 class that is being assembled and the stockpile of wings on the roster. I don’t think it’s because he doesn’t like Illinois or he doesn’t feel like a priority with them. That’s just simply not the case.

Can you share (either in specifics or general terms) how far in advance that you know someone will commit? I think all fans on this board liked the Tilmon "behind the scenes" post. How about Williams, Pickett, and Lucas? I'm sure you can't share 100% of what you know on Goodwin/Frazier, but I think a lot of us would be curious on this.

I’ve shared what I know on Goodwin and Frazier to this point. As for others in the past, each situation is different.

I knew Williams was ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ for a long time – as did others. I got tipped off about a week before his visit that it might be happening soon. I was curious when I heard Frank was in town for Da’Monte’s visit. I got official word that it was happening about 20 minutes before tip-off of the Minnesota game, and Jeremy and I filmed a video in the closet in the media room right away. I called Da’Monte for quotes, and called and told Jeremiah as well – all during the first half. Da’Monte announced on Twitter during halftime.

I found out on Javon right after the game against Nebraska. Again, this was his assumed destination. I knew for sure that Te’Jon would pick Illinois about 48 hours before his announcement.

Do you have any add'l scoop on the positive reports about Malcolm's camp play this week? Sounds like he continues to emphasize the mid-range game as his bread and butter.

Don’t have much to add here. Didn’t get to see any of the action, unfortunately. Will try to get you some more details. But by all accounts, he played well and did whatever he wanted offensively in the mid-range. He continues to become better with that aspect of his game. The progress he’s made with his body helps that as well. I know he feels as good as he's ever felt.

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