Nice bounceback week, John Groce. Lose Jordan Goodwin last week, gain Trent Frazier this week. Goodwin is the better overall prospect. Frazier fills the bigger need. Regardless, the future of Illinois basketball just improved drastically with Frazier's commitment.
Frazier is the kind of point guard Groce has wanted and needed for the past four years. Frazier has been described as a "bucket-getter." He's a score-first point guard with a sweet lefty shooting stroke. He's a great fit for the ball-screen offense. He can shoot it at a high level if defenders back off the ball screen and he can attack the bucket if the defense hedges hard. Frazier must gain strength to finish at the rim at the Big Ten level, but he's got a quick step, a nice array of runners and the athleticism to finish with a dunk sometimes.
Don't look now, but Illinois just might be set at point guard for the foreseeable future. Yes, knock on wood, but that's a nice change of pace, huh? Frazier is a great complement to current freshman Te'Jon Lucas, a pass-first point guard who's developing his scoring game but has a much more developed shot than the recent string of no-offense Illini point guards. And if Da'Monte Williams can handle a little bit too as a combo guard, the Illini are in great shape. Lucas and Frazier actually could play together in college basketball (Frazier at the 2, Lucas at the 1) and would seem to work well with each other offensively (defensively is another question). It was great for Illinois to land a solid Big Ten-caliber point guard last fall, but they needed another. Frazier and Lucas give Illinois stability and much-needed talent at the most important position in college basketball, and Illinois' biggest hole the past two seasons. Starting in 2017, no longer will defenses sag off the guy at the top of the key. No longer will the Illini make three great passes to the open guy -- who can't shoot above 10 percent from three. The Illini's lead guard nightmare finally appears over.
Finally, a slam-dunk for assistant Dustin Ford. And credit staffer Darren Hertz with the assist. Ford has struggled to land targets from his recruiting areas, specifically Ohio and Canada. But he's developed a new recruiting area, Florida, and cashed in right away. Hertz, special assistant to the head coach, helped. The former Billy Donovan staffer has ties in the Sunshine State and got the early word on Frazier. The dynamic point guard didn't receive much national attention because he didn't play on one the major shoe-company AAU circuits. Ford quickly evaluated him and quickly prioritized him. Florida took another point guard, and Baylor, Kansas State and others kept their eyes focused elsewhere. Meanwhile, all spring and summerlong, Illinois was selling Frazier as their top point guard target. He finally "blew up" a bit when he played a few weekends on the AAU circuit in July. Other programs like Georgia and Seton Hall came along and offered. But it was too late. Ford and Illinois had already made him feel like part of the family. That's a nice win for Ford, who also had a bounceback season on the court thanks to early success from big men Mike Thorne Jr. and Michael Finke and the late development of Maverick Morgan.
Smart play by the Illini staff to bring Frazier to Illinois football practice. Frazier's father is a big Bears fan and he and his wife were ecstatic to meet Lovie Smith. The Illini coach also took about five minutes in the middle of practice to talk one-on-one with Frazier. It's always best when the programs work in unison, and no current Illini figure has as much clout as the former NFL coach. The Illini basketball staff reached out to the football staff to ask if they could stop by practice. Football, of course, obliged and Lovie's support staff began gathering as much information as possible before practice so Lovie knew a little bit about Frazier before he and his family arrived. Lovie, athletics director Josh Whitman, the One Man Fastbreak Dee Brown and Groce -- quite a quartet of salesmen for the Illini.
Despite Goodwin's decision, Illinois is still putting together a heck of a Class of 2017. Five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon is the NBA-type big man Illinois needs to compete at the top of the Big Ten. Frazier is the score-first point guard Groce had swung and missed on for too long. DaMonte Williams is inconsistent, but the Illini legacy has such a high ceiling and was a must-get for the state school. Javon Pickett got things started and is the type of skilled wing that can succeed with the pieces that surround him in this class. The Illini still have two scholarship spots available with the focus on athetlic, versatile wing who can defend and rebound and a tall, athletic post who can protect the rim and defend all over the court. Canadian wing Abu Kigab is set to take an official visit next month, and the Illini would like to secure visits from Florida big men Mayan Kiir and Victor Uyaelunmo. And if the Illini get visits from Indianapolis wings Kris Wilkes and Paul Scruggs, they might as well take some big hacks at the long-shot top-40 recruits.
While the loss on Goodwin to SLU still stings, Groce and company soldiered on. On Sunday, they locked up another huge building block. Winning would've been easier with Goodwin on board. But Frazier's commitment is a reminder that without him, Illinois still is on a path to success.