"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited," Jerrance Howard admitted Wednesday. "But it's not about me. I'm just real happy for the program and especially for Coach Weber with all the things that happened in the past. To show the basketball world that he can recruit with the best of them."
Jerrance says recruiting players to Illinois is an easy sell. There are many positives, but Bruce Weber is the main one in his mind.
"I tell people you can't be in a position to play for a better coach than Coach Weber. From the style of play, to his knowledge of the game, to the motion offense, the Assembly Hall, the facilities. At this level, everybody's got great facilities.
"To me, your staff and your head coach is what you've really got to sell. There's not a better guy to be counted on than Coach Weber. It's personal to me. He helped me graduate, he went to bat for me. I'm not just talking, I know from personal experience."
A key to this recruiting class was the long-term relationships established between the Illinois coaching staff and the players' coaches and families.
"When you look at the relationships with Peter Goff, the coach of Joseph (Bertrand), being roommates with Chris Lowrey and being a manager for Coach Weber. And then I played for Coach Ruffin at (Peoria) Central.
"And then Coach (Chuck) Ramsey is an SIU grad who never missed a team camp here. Robert Archibald went to the same high school as Tyler Griffey. Recruiting is relationships. Not only developing relationships but keep developing them over the years."
Jerrance has had a long relationship with D. J. Richardson.
"D. J. was a ball boy for Central. I was a ball boy for Central as well. So I've known D. J. for a long time. He's just a real kid. He doesn't get caught up in all the hype, he's real humble. He's a unique kid to make the decision to leave his senior year to go to Vegas."
Howard is especially excited about the quality of the four recruits as people and their attraction to Illinois.
"The good thing about it, they all want to be here. And they're good kids. The combination of being good kids, they're talented, three of them being from Illinois, that goes a long way."
Howard played with the threesome of Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head, and he says the three new guards remind him of that earlier group.
"Most definitely. When they came on their visit, I think they won 12 of 13 games together. The also have good chemistry off the court. What made Dee, Luther and Deron so special was their relationship off the court, like brothers. I think that's something they bring to the table right away.
"But all of them are different. Joseph could be a point guard, he's real athletic. Brandon is just a natural 2. He can shoot it, take you inside. I think D. J. could do a little bit of everything. He can rebound, be a great defender, a slasher who can shoot the ball really well."
Despite their lofty rankings, Jerrance doesn't believe there will be jealousy on next year's team.
"I think it will work out well because of their personalities. All four are humble kids. With the relationships they build with our guys every time they come here, they have a great relationship and talk with each other, text message each other. I think it's gonna be a smooth transition.
"Not to say it won't be real competitive. Now you have someone who can really push Alex Legion, two or three guys to challenge Demetri and Jeff. So I think it's gonna help us a lot in practice."
Howard sees the potential for the Illini to continue their recruiting upgrade in future years. They already have three commitments from outstanding prospects for the 2010 class. And the new recruits have been calling younger players about the Illini as they want to play with other top players. Richardson has been especially helpful.
"Bigtime. D. J. Richardson has really taken that personal. Billy Cole said he talked to D. J. yesterday. And then he talked to Dominique. And he's calling our other commitments. He's been a face and voice for Illinois basketball when we can't do it."
All four recruits committed a year ago. Since Jerrance also made an early decision for Illinois, he is familiar with their situation. He believes there are a number of positives in committing early.
"I always wanted to go to Illinois, so when the opportunity came I took advantage of it. It was a no brainer for me. I'm glad I did it, and you can see now it's the norm. You can really concentrate on academics and focus on your season. You can focus on getting better."