Big Ten-level big men are hard to come by.
That's why landing five-star 2017 center Jeremiah Tilmon was so huge for John Groce and the Illini. Tilmon is the only blue-chip big in the senior class in the state.
In fact, he is the only in-state big man who's been ranked in Scout.com's top 100 since the 2014 class -- when Jahlil Okafor (No. 1 overall) and Cliff Alexander (No. 6) were two of the top six players in the country. Sometimes blue-chip bigs, or even just Big Ten-level bigs, emerge in your state once every blue moon.
The 2017 class has been crucial for Illinois, and there has been immense focus on it for good reason. But the 2019 class will be equally as important for Groce & Co. They will be losing Jalen Coleman-Lands, Leron Black, Michael Finke, D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan.
Not to mention, Tilmon's time clock is set at two years in Champaign -- which means the Illini will likely need to fill that void for the 2019-20 season as well. That's a long ways to look down the road, but it's clear to see the importance of that class.
And Illinois won't have to look far down the road to find Tilmon's potential replacement. The same guy who will take Tilmon's place on the St. Louis Eagles 17U roster this upcoming summer.
Enter Francis Okoro. A 6-foot-9, 225-pound "grown-a** man", as described by Eagles head coach Corey Frazier. He can run. He can rebound. He can block shots. He can tear the rim off if he wanted to.
And he's now a sophomore at Normal West High School, which is exactly 57.4 miles away from the State Farm Center. That's where Okoro resides after coming over from Nigeria in 2014 and moving around from Mississippi to Las Vegas to Nashville.
Now, he is staying with his aunt and uncle in Bloomington-Normal. And now, the state of Illinois has its unquestioned top prospect in that class.
Normal West head coach Brian Cupples is going into his 15th season at the high school. He has gotten an up-close look at basketball in Central Illinois, and around the state during that time.
Has he seen anyone like Okoro?
"No," Cupples said with a laugh. "In Central Illinois, in terms of pure athleticism, we haven't seen someone like him."
"We've had some really good basketball players in this area. Keita Bates-Diop was a really good one here in Normal. And there have been some others. But the athleticism is kind of what makes Francis different from everybody else."
Talk about an opportunity.
Want to know more about Okoro? How did he get here? What are the expectations for him? What have the Illini done to recruit him already?