The push is on for John Groce and his staff to add another frontcourt piece in their 2017 class alongside five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon, and the Illini have set their sights on Victory Rock Prep (Fla.) big man Mayan Kiir.
Illinois got the good news they were looking for on Thursday as it relates to their chances with Kiir. Louisville was thought to be the team to beat early on given their in-roads and offer, but they landed a pledge from top-30 big man Malik Williams.
That opens things up for the Illini to make their move.
Kiir has been a high-priority target for the Orange and Blue, and Illinois watched him religiously throughout the July evaluation periods. They were courtside at the adidas Gauntlet Finale during the first live period, where Kiir was an absolute monster.
The 6-foot-9 power forward averaged 16.3 points and 13.7 rebounds in his team's three games. He had a double-double in each contest, and he was the league's leading rebounder. The Illini were at every single one of those contests.
Illinois loves Kiir's length, motor, toughness and ability to impact the game at both ends. He put that on display in July, despite some sleeping on him before.
"Looking at the level he's played at for the last three years, which is an elite level, he put himself in a situation to show people that he's been playing at that level. That's really key," Victory Rock Prep head coach Loren Jackson told IlliniInquirer.com. "He just needs to continue to develop, keep working and don't get complacent."
Kiir has attributes that are highly attractive to the Illini when thinking about adding to their frontline in 2017-18.
"He can run. He can shoot. He's a great defender. He's a great communicator on defense. He can catch. He's got a very good package. He's got great footwork," Jackson said. "He's got a package that has programs hopeful. The next part of it is what program is going to present the best opportunity."
Jackson said Illinois fits into the mix with N.C. State, UNLV and some others that are showing interest right now.
"We're just looking at the different options and opportunities right now," he said. "Illinois is definitely on that list. We like the guys they have on their roster now, and they've got a pretty good recruiting class started. I think it's one of those things where for us, it's about the right fit and being able to get on the floor right away."
Tilmon is the obvious choice to be Illinois starting center from Day One of the 2017-18 season. Leron Black will be a primary contributor at the four. Michael Finke can play the four or the five. Kiir could play either position as well, and Illinois will need to convince him that he will have a significant role right away.
"The biggest thing is being able to get on the court right away," Jackson said. "That's what you have to do to be a professional. In today's world, that's what you got to do."
Illinois has been selling that Kiir can play alongside Tilmon, and be a valuable piece in the rotation. But Jackson wants to make sure it all adds up -- just like with any program.
"Everybody says the same thing. I've been doing this for 27 years. It all sounds the same," he said. "Everybody says they have playing time and all that. We've got to look and see. It's not going to be a rushed process."
Jackson added that he and Kiir have a good impression of Illinois, Groce and assistant coach Dustin Ford.
"They're good guys. I've known John for a while. They're good dudes," he said. "No problems with the Illini and what they're doing. Just got to see if it's the right fit for us."
As for where Kiir is at in the process, Jackson said they are taking their time. Kiir just returned from adidas Nations in Los Angeles, where he was the No. 3 rebounder at the event. What's their plan going forward?
"Don't really have one right now. We haven't sat down. I usually give the guys a little while after they get done playing for the summer to digest everything," Jackson said. "He just got back from Nations. I'm going to give him a little time to regroup and then we'll talk about it."
Jackson said that conversation will likely come in the next week or two. Expect the Illini to push hard for an official visit as this thing heats up.