The Illini hoops program has one more official visit lined up before the start of the early signing period, and it's a big one for John Groce & Co. with four-star power forward Mayan Kiir coming to town.
Kiir will fly into Champaign on Thursday to begin the visit on the Illini campus. The 6-foot-9 big man is ranked as one of the top 15 power forwards in the 2017 class by Scout.com, and he led the adidas Gauntlet Finale in rebounding in July with 13.7 boards per game.
Groce and his staff see Kiir as a perfect fit to round out their frontcourt pursuit in the class -- joining five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon. The Illini have an exceptional class assembled already, and Kiir would take that to another level.
"They have a good class in 2017. I can tell the skill level is pretty high for that class," Kiir told IlliniInquirer.com back in August. "I want to be on a good team that can win."
Illinois has known for a while that they'd get Kiir in town for an official visit, and now the time has come. That presents an opportunity to be seized, and Kiir is ready to take his look.
"I'm really excited," Kiir said on Wednesday night. "(Fans) better be ready for me. I'm ready for this visit."
Going Illinois' way
The Illini have what they believe to be a strong sell with Kiir. They pursued him as hard as any program during the July evaluation periods -- showing him the love that a priority target deserves. Kiir and his camp see him as being one of the best bigs in the class, and Illinois has approached him as such.
Through that consistent and forceful pursuit, Illinois has built a strong relationship with Kiir. Illini assistant coach Dustin Ford has made Florida seem like his second home by making frequent trips to see Kiir, along with four-star point guard commit Trent Frazier. Groce visited Kiir a few weeks ago as well.
"I have a really good relationship with the coaches," Kiir said on Wednesday.
That relationship and level of trust is crucial, and the Illini staff has put in the time to back that up. They can also offer Kiir an opportunity to play on the big stage in the Big Ten with plenty of talent to surround him. While there isn't a direct line to a starting job for Kiir as a freshman, he can be an important piece in a versatile and deep frontcourt.
Furthermore, Illinois can really sell Adam Fletcher on this visit. Kiir has length, a high motor and some offensive tools. He's added some muscle to his frame over the last year, but the next steps in his physical development will determine his basketball future. With tangible proof of his work, Fletcher is a weapon to be utilized. With some more muscle-building and added explosion, Kiir can be a monster. The Illini can get him there.
Going against Illinois
Kiir is coming off a visit at N.C. State, and the Wolfpack have made him a priority as well.
"It was a good experience. I had a great time with the players. Fans were great," Kiir said. "Love the campus. Love the city."
That was Kiir's first official visit. He also has one slated to VCU on Oct. 22. The Rams have shown him plenty of love, and the fan base has made sure to blow up his Twitter account on a regular basis. Illinois and VCU have been in a good battle in that regard.
But as Kiir has said, this decision is not about the fans. It is about the best fit for him on the basketball court. Immediate playing time is the biggest hurdle for Illinois. They have some to sell, but VCU can offer quite a bit -- even with a pair of frontcourt players committed in the class already. They don't have much returning down low, while the Illini will have veterans Leron Black and Michael Finke back.
Playing time is important in this battle.
"I want a lot of minutes," Kiir said frankly back in August.
His high school coach has echoed the same sentiment.
"The biggest thing is being able to get on the court right away," Victory Rock Prep (Fla.) head coach Loren Jackson said. "That's what you have to do to be a professional."
Confidence in a commitment
(On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest) 3 -- It is pretty unlikely that Kiir pulls the trigger before making it to VCU. That being said, Illinois is going into this one determined to make a big-time impression. A month ago, the Illini felt like they had a stronger hold than anyone. Now, the cards are being played pretty close to the vest on Kiir's side. Illinois is in the thick of it, and they could come out of this weekend as the favorite. But even a home-run visit probably won't result in a pledge this weekend.
A commitment from Kiir would further solidify Illinois' chances of ending up with a top-15 class in the country, while also completing a promising reload in the frontcourt. The quartet of Kiir, Tilmon, Black and Finke would give the Illini a versatile and talented unit for the 2017-18 season, and you could see them all again the following season as well. That would be a scary thought for any opponent on the schedule.
Kiir has what the Illini staff is looking for with his length, motor and toughness. Along with Black, he would give Groce another down-low option who can run, defend and do the dirty work in the post. In the short term, Kiir can be a key role player. By the time he's a junior and senior, the Illini believe he can be a force in the Big Ten.