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Fact or Fiction: Illini are still major players with Kris Wilkes

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper weighs in on Illinois' position with five-star Indianapolis wing Kris Wilkes.

Fact. The Illini have made it to the final table with blue-chip Indianapolis small forward Kris Wilkes and they will remain there until it's time for Wilkes to show his hand.

Illinois has steadily made strides -- including some big ones -- over the last nine weeks since Wilkes included them in his final five. Now, they're in a position that very few actually thought they could attain.

Assistant coach Jamall Walker has done an outstanding job of developing a relationship that Wilkes greatly values. People around this recruitment believe Walker has the best connection with Wilkes of any coach involved. As the lead recruiter for Jalen Coleman-Lands, Leron Black and Jeremiah Tilmon, Walker's recruiting prowess is clear to see. And the work he's done with Wilkes is another example of that.

The Illini did a really good job with their official visit. They check a lot of necessary boxes, and that's why you see them as one of the standing three after Wilkes cancelled his two remaining official visits.

The one qualifier here is that while you have to consider Illinois a major player the rest of the way, mostly all of the playing has already been done. A decision is likely on it's way in the very near future.

A source close to the situation has indicated there is a strong likelihood that Wilkes makes his decision within the next 10 days, and it could even come before this week is over. Wilkes' father was reached for comment.

"I think he will make a decision soon," Greg Wilkes told on Tuesday morning.

The immediacy of this "soon" appears to be different that the one Kris himself posted on Twitter on Oct. 7.

From Illinois' vantage point, they believe Kris has his mind pretty well made up on where he wants to go. Where that destination likely is depends on who you ask, and no one seems to know with exact certainty.

UCLA has garnered a lot of buzz in recent weeks, and that buzz is probably still the strongest of any at this juncture. The Bruins have some different aspects to their sell, and by many accounts, those have piqued Wilkes' interest.

Los Angeles is a pro city, and Wilkes would have the opportunity to be around and compete against NBA players during the summer. That's an advantage for a player who expects to be in the NBA after a season or two in college. Not to mention, the scenery ain't so bad out there either. Beyond that, there has been talk that Wilkes simply feels best about his fit out at UCLA.

Meanwhile, Indiana is trying to hold on for dear life. There are four home-state products ranked in the top 40 in the 2017 class, and three of them have already decided to go elsewhere. Wilkes is the last one left on the board, and he also happens to be the highest ranked of the group (No. 18 overall).

The confidence scale has differed recently within the Hoosier State. Some have called Indiana the heavy favorite, especially after his string of recent visits to Bloomington. One came last weekend, as Wilkes went to campus with one of his high school friends, who is an Indiana football recruit. Wilkes watched Indiana's basketball practice and their football game against Nebraska.

But connected sources have said that visit meant nothing in relation to his decision. In fact, Wilkes wanted to keep the trip low-key. Many Illinois fans will remember when Cliff Alexander not-so-secretly visited Champaign one weekend not too long before his announcement.

Furthermore, some of the best in-tuned sources on the Indiana side have not been extremely confident of late. That's not to say they'd be surprised if he ended up staying home. But they wouldn't call them the leader.

There are others who are tied to the candy stripes that have more of a gut feel. 'Indiana just makes the most sense, put in the most work, close to home' type logic. Illinois fans have been there with top in-state targets.

On the outside, there has been some educated speculation that Wilkes doesn't really want to go to Indiana. Wilkes has been to Bloomington countless times. He has been recruited by Indiana since middle school. He took his final official visit there. And yet, he hasn't pulled the trigger.

And whether it means anything or not, multiple sources have said Wilkes is not planning to attend Hoosier Hysteria this weekend.

But no one in this recruitment is unblemished. There is an undeniable distance element with UCLA. Is Wilkes willing to go somewhere that won't allow his family to go see him play? It's a bigger factor for some than others.

By process of elimination, if UCLA turns out to be too far and Indiana isn't where Wilkes wants to go, Illinois would be the choice. And frankly, they deserve more credit than just a 'by default' possibility. This has been a tough decision for Wilkes, and the attractiveness of Illinois has been part of that without question.

Bottom line, Wilkes and his family seem to have a pretty good idea on where they stand with certain pros and cons. We are just left to wait for him to feel 100 percent confident and make the call. Everything figures to be on the table at this point, and Wilkes' father told that no home visits are scheduled.

After home-state hopeful Jordan Goodwin went off the board in the early part of August -- a guy the Illini spent countless time and immeasurable effort pursuing -- all Illinois wanted was a shot at Wilkes. A chance to take their swing. They got that.

And to still have a seat at the final table with a decision looming but not yet made, some would say they're playing with house money. And that makes them a player until this game ends.


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