On paper, the University of Illinois football team and men's basketball team have two of the best recruiters in the game today. Bruce Weber and Ron Zook have brought some incredibly talented players to Champaign. Great recruiting doesn't guarantee success, but the road to prominence has to start somewhere.
"We're really excited about this and the direction of our program," men's basketball Assistant Coach Jerrance Howard said. "As you know we can't talk about any of the recruits until they sign, but this bodes well for the future of our program. One of my coaches from years back told me that if you can somehow find three to four kids that have pro potential those are the teams that reach final fours and elite status. With the Class of 2009 and 2010, if it works out things should be good for the future of the program."
There has been one key change in the program. Now if Illinois make an offer to a kid and they don't take it, they move on to the next one. Not a bad thing to do, because for years that's what other programs have done and it's paid off for them.
Sources told us that Howard has been huge for Bruce Weber. They believe no one can sell the university like him as he's played for Coach Weber and he's very close to the former players that reached elite status such as Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and Luther Head. Seeing Howard in action this summer was what Illinois needed. He relates well to players. In fact at times it seems like he's like "one of them" at times, sporting the same clothes, music, and lingo.
Denise Smith, the mother of Deron Williams, is a believer in Howard. "Illinois fans don't know what they're getting in Jerrance," Smith told me in an earlier interview when Howard was hired. "I do…no one knows that school the way he does and it will pay off in the long run."
As for the Illinois players who are part of the scout.com list, the highest ranked player is at #13. That is 6'6" five-star recruit Jereme Richmond from Waukegan (IL) Waukegan, who committed to Illinois as a freshman in high school. The scouts see tremendous upside in Richmond's game.
Checking in at # 22 is 6'3" Crandall Head Richton Park (IL) Rich South , who's also a five-star recruit. Head dealt with some minor injury issues during the summer and that may have affected his ranking a bit, but don't let his spot on the list fool you. He's as athletic as they come.
Next up is surprising 6'10" big man Meyers Leonard of Robinson, Illinois. Scouts fell in love with his game and it shows because he comes in at #29 and is a four-star athlete that may climb even higher as the season goes on.
Illinois has offers on the table to other 2010 recruits that made the Scout.com list. They include #32 Anthony Johnson, a 6'3" guard from Whitney Young Magnet HS in Chicago, and #75 Lenzelle Smith from Zion-Benton HS. All five of these young players are from the state of Illinois, and some experts say it's been awhile since the state has had a class this deep.