The Illini have a pair of feature freshmen at the lead guard spot with Mark Smith and Trent Frazier, and that duo inspires loads of promise for the future. Not to mention, Illinois returns sophomore point guard Te'Jon Lucas -- who has the capability to be a dynamic facilitator and a premier on-ball defender on the perimeter. Safe to say lead guard is not a position of need for Brad Underwood in the 2018 class. But talent trumps need, and that's what has in-state lead guard Ayo Dosunmu sitting atop the priority list. He is the sole focus for the staff at the position.
Top competition: Xavier, Kansas
Comment: Illinois has attractive options to put the ball in their hands in the coming years. The Illini know that. Dosunmu understands that as well. But this scoring playmaker does not fear competition. And Underwood sees no limitation with a system that thrives with multiple ball-handlers. In fact, adding Dosunmu would make the Illini offense all the more dangerous -- creating a three-headed monster in the backcourt that Champaign hasn't seen since Dee, Deron and Luther. Underwood is an offensive mastermind and he got to put that on display to Dosunmu, his father and Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin during their visit in June. The relationship continues to grow, and as Dosunmu told IlliniInquirer.com, it's "off to a good start". All indications are that Underwood and his staff are off to a great start with the Irvin camp too. You could go as far as to say this is the best the Illinois program has positioned themselves there to date. That doesn't automatically win this recruitment, though. Xavier is a very strong contender here, and some are buying them as the leader. Meanwhile, Kansas came onto the scene as the first blue blood offer. The Jayhawks don't typically go quietly on prospects they really push for. But Illinois should feel good about how they're trending, and being Dosunmu's only visit in June is a moderate positive at the very least.
The Illini are looking to make a key addition on the wing in this class. Versatility is highly valued in this pursuit, as well as toughness and the ability to score at different levels of the floor. This staff would really love to add a player that brings a boost of athleticism too -- one thing the roster could use more of as a whole. There are certainly some prospects that can accomplish that goal. Overall, you see a group of players whose skill sets can fit in the system and put the program in a spot to win -- with varying levels of instant impact. The focus starts in state with Tim Finke and Talen Horton-Tucker right in Illinois' backyard, and the Illini continue to put in plenty of effort with both of them.
Top competition: Northwestern, Iowa State, Xavier, Purdue
Comment: Oh, how a staff change can change the opinion on a prospect. To John Groce, Horton-Tucker was too big and not quick enough to be a guard. To Underwood, he's exactly the kind of hard-nosed, positionless wing with scoring, dribbling and passing skills that he's seeking. The home-state program has made that very clear to Horton-Tucker. Hiring assistant coach Chin Coleman helped the cause. He was the first coach to offer him a scholarship. The Illini staff impressed Horton-Tucker during his visit in June, and Underwood stated that he would "fit in perfectly". That was Horton-Tucker's first time meeting Underwood, and his first time on the Illini campus. He'd like to come back to continue to get a better feel. One place he has a good feel at is Northwestern, and they shouldn't be slept on in this race. The Wildcats are selling Horton-Tucker on being the face of their 2018 class. Remember how a similar sell played a part in luring a similar player in Jordan Goodwin to SLU. Northwestern has already pumped some momentum into their class with a pair of quality commitments in June. Other programs are in the mix here, but this battle could very well stay in state when it comes down to the finish line.
Top competition: Vanderbilt, Ohio State, Oregon, Notre Dame
Comment: Once again, the changing of the guard in Champaign has benefited Illinois' position in this recruitment. There was friction between the old staff and the Finke family at the end of the tenure. On top of that, there was a question of fit. But Underwood & Co. have given Finke a fresh feeling of intrigue in Illinois. They made a strong first impression with an in-home visit this spring. And they got Finke on campus multiple times in June. The top-100 wing told IlliniInquirer.com that he is definitely "looking at Illinois differently". However, the popular opinion remains that Vanderbilt is on top in this chase. Finke has a very good relationship with former Illini Roger Powell, as well as Bryce Drew. Notre Dame was a significant contender, but their position has shifted after landing top-100 shooting guard Robby Carmody. Ohio State is an interesting one to watch now. The Finke family were fans of Chris Holtmann and his staff at Butler, but a stockpile of wings had the Bulldogs pumping the breaks on their push. Holtmann extended an OSU offer to Finke in late June and they could quickly climb. But Illinois is trending up as well
Top competition: Texas, LSU, Florida, SMU, Wichita State
Comment: Illinois is very high on this 6-foot-6 wing, and they've put in the work to back it up. Archie told Scout.com in June that the Illini were one of the five programs coming at him the hardest. Underwood recruited him while he was at Oklahoma State, and he went right back after him when he got the job in Champaign. Archie has the athleticism, motor and toughness that Illinois is seeking. Some consider him to have one of the highest motors in this class. But pulling this DFW-metro target out of the South will be a big-time challenge. Archie took visits to SMU and Texas in June. The Longhorns have made him a huge priority, and Archie has bonded well with head coach Shaka Smart. Illinois could potentially swing a visit, though.
Top competition: Michigan, Florida, Vanderbilt, UCONN
Comment: Like plenty of coaches around the country, Underwood and his staff salivated at the thought of adding Brazdeikis to their roster. And the Illini had the flexibility to bring him in on a reclass to 2017. While Brazdeikis still has yet to definitively eliminate the possibility of a reclass, he continues to say that he's probably going to stay in 2018. That enables more suitors to make a run, while he can develop his game even more before reaching the next level. This recruitment has not been narrowed down, but Brazeikis has consistently mentioned Michigan, Florida and Vanderbilt as the first schools off the top of his head. He has visited Michigan and Vandy. The Illini got in the mix with an offer in the spring, but they have not been on the radar of legitimate landing spots. Oh, and don't write Oregon off for any top-notch Canadian target.
Top competition: LSU, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Virginia
Comment: Days has left his recruitment wide open, while sticking to his plan of holding off on cutting lists and taking visits until after July. Groce's staff had an offer out to Days, and the new Illini staff reaffirmed that rather quickly this spring. Assistant coach Orlando Antigua has worked on this one, but the outlook isn't currently an optimistic one for the Illini. Days has shifted his school list around in updates over the last few months, but Texas A&M and Virginia have been mainstays in his top group. LSU has emerged as a big player as well after an offer in May. A Kansas offer grabbed Days' attention too, but they have slow-played since then -- per usual. Illinois will continue to stay involved, but they probably shouldn't hold their breath.
Top competition: Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss
Comment: The Illini identified Stewart on the EYBL circuit this spring as a wing with supreme athleticism and an ability to hit from the outside. Stewart told IlliniInquirer.com in May that he was excited to pick up an Illinois offer, and that he was building a good relationship with Coleman. He had plans to visit Illinois in June, but he didn't make it up. Instead, Stewart traveled to Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss in May and June. Like Archie, it will be plenty difficult to pull Stewart away from area contenders. But if the Illini are able to reschedule a visit -- possibly an official -- this one could start to trend differently.
Top competition: DePaul, Bradley, UIC
Comment: Mosley won a state title at Chicago Orr this past season, and he emerged on the national scene in late May on the Under Armour circuit. His showing with the Illinois Wolves earned him a spot in Scout.com's updated top 100. The Illini hosted Mosley for a visit in June, but they did not extend an offer. Michigan did the same. Mosley picked up an offer from DePaul in May, and he earned offers from Bradley and UIC during unofficial visits in June. If he has a big month in July and other options fall off the board, Mosley could be one to watch.
No Jeremiah Tilmon could turn out to save the Illinois staff from some headaches, but it doesn't alleviate the burning need for a big man in this class. The Illini set out to find an impact player down low to compensate. But that is not an easy task, especially for a class that doesn't possess great depth for high-level bigs capable of immediate dividends. It didn't take long for the Illini to highlight Silvio De Sousa as their home-run swing in this category, and putting Antigua on the chase figured to give Illinois as good of a shot as they could hope for. The class dynamic and the timing make that challenging, though. And it's logical to think that a new staff -- even with an elite recruiter -- may not make that big splash for a big man until the 2019 class. Even so, the Illini need to make a quality down-low addition in this class. And they have lined up a handful of options to do so.
Top competition: Maryland, Louisville, Syracuse
Comment: De Sousa's recruitment isn't loaded with suitors at this juncture. More could be on the way. But programs like Maryland, Louisville and Syracuse set up camp early, and the Terps have been very strong. Maryland did just land top-40 big man Jalen Smith, and they are considered a top contender -- if not the leader -- for five-star center Moses Brown. No one is going to regret saying they won't get all three. That could potentially make things interesting. Maryland tried to get De Sousa on campus last month to close it down, but they couldn't pull it off. They plan on bringing him in after July, though. Word is that there is a strong Under Armour pull in this one. Never say never, but this is a long shot at best right now for Illinois. Antigua has remained active with De Sousa, and he has some good ties to hang around. But this big-hitter is more likely to knock one out of the park in the 2019 class than with De Sousa this time around.
Top competition: Iowa State, Washington, Colorado, Arizona State
Comment: Conditt is coming off a huge month, as his recruitment has elevated to a whole new level. Part of that included a visit to Champaign and an offer from Underwood. Conditt told IlliniInquirer.com that he loved the experience, and he sees a bright future for the home-state program. Illinois will surely be a major player throughout the rest of this process. Other high-majors have joined the race too. Conditt has picked up recent offers from Arizona State, Colorado, Iowa State and Washington. Iowa State has a unique pull being that Conditt's father is an alum and former defensive end for the Cyclones. They visited there in February. Illinois should feel pretty good, though, and Conditt would be a nice add with quite a bit of long-term upside.
Top competition: Clemson, Georgia, South Florida
Comment: Castleton is a very intriguing prospect with his length, solid athleticism and ability to block shots. He has flown under the radar for most, but this staff knows him quite well. Antigua was the first coach to offer him a scholarship when he was at South Florida. Castleton told IlliniInquirer.com that he is developing a relationship with Underwood as well, and he's already eying an official visit after the AAU season. He took unofficial trips to Clemson, Georgia, Florida and South Florida in June. The Gators haven't offered, though, despite Castleton starring at their team camp last month. Sound familiar? Trent Frazier says hello.
Top competition: Wichita State, Houston, Texas A&M
Comment: The Illini were the first high-major offer for Udeze this spring. Antigua initiated the pursuit down in Texas, and it drew a good reception from Udeze early on. He told IlliniInquirer.com that he was impressed with Antigua's history of developing high-level bigs. Other programs got Udeze on campus in June, however. He took trips to Houston, Texas A&M and Wichita State. Iowa State also got in the mix with an offer.
Top competition: Colorado, Oregon State, Tulane
Comment: Illinois got in relatively early in this recruitment with an offer at the beginning of May. Sow told IlliniInquirer.com that he looked forward to building a relationship with the Illini staff. The Prolific Prep (Calif.) big man has some attractive attributes with his strength and ability to finish around the basket. He also showed a midrange jumper this spring. This recruitment has been quiet thus far. But some early positioning could help Illinois if they want to make a real run at it.
Recently off the board
Comment: Illinois planned on making a big push with Bazely, who was easily one of the most talented targets on the radar. The staff was told that Bazely planned to visit Champaign in August. But it ultimately didn't carry any significance with Bazley committing to Syracuse following an unofficial visit early this month.
Comment: Hunter cut his list down to Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Pitt and Xavier in late June. Illinois offered Hunter in the spring and hoped to get him on campus in June. But they could not gain traction. The offer came too late in the process, which was an evaluation error on the side of the previous staff.
Comment: Lathon had Illinois in his top five, and he wanted to take an official visit to Champaign after trips to Iowa State and Northwestern. It's not hard to believe that the Illini could have closed if they pushed hard enough. But they decided to back off in order to save position with Dosunmu. Lathon ended up committing to the Wildcats.