There is an intense focus on adding to the 2017 class, but the Illini staff still found the time to stop in and see Belleville West 2019 forward E.J. Liddell last Thursday.
The first-team All-State selection was very high on the future priority list during the last tenure, and that will carry over with Brad Underwood as well. Underwood got his first look at Liddell in an open gym on Thursday, and Jamall Walker accompanied him as well.
Afterwards, Liddell met with Underwood for the first time.
"It went great," Liddell said. "Coach Underwood seems like a good guy."
They didn't talk for too long, but Underwood told Liddell how he would be a great fit with his athleticism, motor and ability to space the floor as a versatile forward. He left a good impression.
"I like his playing style and how he carries himself," Liddell said.
Meanwhile, Walker has been working this recruitment for a while now. Liddell has talked in the past about how they have a great relationship. Walker got him on campus last summer for a visit and an offer. Liddell came back for a football game in October, and he was a recruiting guest at the Braggin' Rights game with Mark Smith in December.
Illinois has clearly put in the most work. And that's exactly what you want with this kind of rising talent. Liddell scored 43 points against former Illini signee Javon Pickett in the regional semifinals back in March. He followed that up with 34 points to knock out Illinois' prized former signee Jeremiah Tilmon and capture the regional title.
That's 77 points for a sophomore in two games against seniors signed to go to Illinois. Tilmon and Pickett are no longer lined up to attend the home-state school, but you can bet the Illini will put the pedal to the floor in their pursuit of Liddell.
He averaged around 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks this past season. There is still plenty of growth potential left in his game, and he will work to tap into that further with Brad Beal Elite on the 16U EYBL circuit this spring.
Illinois will be there to watch as soon as the evaluation periods open up later this month. Liddell is a potential in-state star in the making.