The Class of 1998 is probably one of the most argued recruiting classes in Illinois in the last ten years of Illinois history. Pat Kennedy left Florida State to take the Head Coaching job at DePaul, and he and Lon Kruger would wage a war for control of the state of Illinois in recruiting. The Class of 1998 had no shortage of talent in the state of Illinois, and both Kruger and Kennedy needed to stockpile talent to bring the success to their respective programs fans were pining for. DePaul was not the only adversary for recruits in the state of Illinois for Kruger, though. Coach K and his Duke Blue Devils were once again looking towards Illinois to round out their recruiting class.
The deck was stacked against Kruger in the Class of 1998, but this recruiting season started out with a bang as Frank Williams gave a verbal commitment to Illinois when Marcus Griffin and Sergio McClain decided to attend Illinois over Indiana. Frank was going to be the crown jewel in the Class of 1998 for Illinois, a McDonald's All American point guard Illinois would build its program around. After getting the commitment from Frank, Lon now could focus on rounding out the puzzle and he looked towards the battleground area of Chicago to do just that.
Bobby Simmons. Lance Williams. Corey Maggette. If you followed recruiting back in 1998, you already knew those names as the big named recruits Lon Kruger was battling to get to come to Illinois. Rumors ran rampant through the recruiting process of these big named stars, but eventually they all ended up selecting to attend a different school than Illinois. Bobby Simmons and Lance Williams (who I still remember for saying he was going wherever Frank was going) ended up selecting Pat Kennedy's DePaul Blue Demons, while Corey Magette ended up selecting Coach K's Duke Blue Devils.
While it will be tough for any fan to admit, Illinois struck out every top named recruit they were going after in the Class of 1998 not named Frank Williams, but despite that fact the Class of 1998 was the foundation for Illinois' current on court basketball success.
When Robert Archibald, Lucas Johnson, Damir Krupalija, and Frank Williams graduated from Illinois, IlliniBoard.com wrote up a story remembering the contributions of each player. Instead of trying to recreate the wheel with this edition of the Summer Series, I thought I would just provide links to the previous stories about the four key members of the Class of 1998.
- Robert Archibald: Four stars. Robert gave up his hand and back in an effort to make Illinois the best team he could be. He came a long way from the skinny freshman into the senior no one wanted to see lining up against them. That was a testament to his hard work off the court to make himself better.
- Lucas Johnson: Four and a half stars. The guy you loved to have on your team, and hated if he was not on your team. Epitomized the Illinois "thug" image in the 2000-2001 Elite Eight season.
- Damir Krupalija: Three stars. It would have been higher had injuries not plagued Damir's entire Illinois career.
- Frank Williams: Five stars. Sure there were times when you thought he could have done more, but he was the best player on very good Illinois teams throughout his career. He did leave you wanting more, but what he gave you was spectacular.