CHAMPAIGN -- It's no secret that Illinois hasn't had much success in landing the top point guards from the Chicago area in recent classes, but St. Joe's sophomore Marquise Walker could be one to change that rhetoric.
Walker fills two major requirements to be a candidate. He is one of the top five 2019 prospects in the state, and he loves the Illini.
The home-state program hosted Walker for an unofficial visit last Saturday, which was the second time he's been to campus in the last five months. Walker picked up an offer from John Groce during his visit back in June, and he was quick to call Illinois his "for-sure No. 1".
After last weekend's visit, he still looks at Champaign as the place to be.
"I love it. It's a really good environment, really big fan base. It's at home. It's everything you can ever imagine," Walker told IlliniInquirer.com. "I like the atmosphere. There's a lot of positivity around here."
Walker spent some time at Memorial Stadium with other in-state visitors like Da'Monte Williams and Adam Miller. They all got to watch practice at Ubben as well, and Walker was impressed by what he saw.
"It was an energetic practice. The guys put in a lot of hard work. I like practices like that," Walker said. "I just really like the way Coach Groce energizes his team. I think Coach Groce and I go really well together. I really, really liked the way the practice went. I loved it."
Walker believes an exciting year is in store for the Orange and Blue.
"They're going to be real good this year. They should make it far," he said. "I like the way they look."
Meanwhile, he's hoping for a big sophomore season up at St. Joe's following an impressive showing as a freshman at the state tournament in March. Walker said he learned a lot from that experience.
"I learned last year that this game isn't going to wait for you. You've got to adjust and adapt to make yourself better. It really helped me as a player with the help of Coach (Gene) Pingatore," he said. "It helped me think the game faster, and on the court, that slowed things down for me. It taught me I had to work on my shot a little bit. I've done that and it's way better now."
"I feel like my jump shot has improved a lot. I feel like my athleticism has improved. I think my defense is improving."
The 5-foot-10 playmaker had a good showing on the AAU scene over the summer. Walker was the starting point guard on a team that won the 15U championship at Peach Jam in July.
He has great feel at the position with a combination of handles, toughness and vision. Walker has shown a smooth mid-range game as well. He's focused on taking his entire package to the next level.
"I have to get even more athletic. I've improved in that area, but I have to get even better. Right now, I have a 35-inch vertical off the run. I feel like I need to be around a 40 or 42 off the run. I just have to progress to get there," Walker said. "I hope I get a little taller. You don't see the facial hair yet so that says something."
"I'm looking to get up to six foot or 6-foot-1, which would be good. Just praying for a lot of things to go right and praying that all this hard work will pay off."
Right now, plenty in the state are comparing Walker's production and ceiling to fellow Chicago sophomore point guard Markese Jacobs, who committed to Kansas early last month.
"It will be forever a battle. The real battle is who makes it further. We can battle all we want right now. It matters, but at the same time, it doesn't," Walker said. "I think the battle is really with the fans. It's something everybody wants to see and everybody wants to debate. Everybody wants to have their own vote in it. I don't really care about it, honestly. It's fun but it's for the fans."
"My life is not about basing my success on one person. I trust in the reputation that I've already built and continue to build."
As Walker works to further that reputation, you can bet the Illini will be watching closely. And Walker plans to come back to Champaign during the hoops season to check out the squad.
"I will most definitely be down for a couple games this year," Walker said. "I love it here. It's so live and you feel the love. You look at the crowd and you see people that are behind you. I just feel the love in the building."