Howard Brings Vitality To Illini Recruiting

Illinois has made a remarkable turnaround in basketball recruiting. Coach Bruce Weber has altered his strategy to go after younger players, and he has utilized long-term coaching friends to help cultivate relationships with several outstanding players. But he also hired Jerrance Howard as an assistant coach, and Jerrance has been a whirlwind.

Illinois needs all its coaches to be good recruiters, and they are. Assistants Jay Price, Wayne McClain, and Jerrance Howard have all served as primary recruiters for athletes signed or committed to the Illini. But there is no doubt the addition of Jerrance Howard has made a positive impact on recruiting.

Joe Henricksen, author of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, spoke glowingly about Jerrance recently on the WDWS radio show Saturday Sportsline.

"In 14 years of doing this, I honestly have not seen an assistant coach that has made this quick an impact in this short a time...ever. I haven't heard anyone say a bad thing about Jerrance Howard. That says a lot."

Henricksen outlines why Howard is so appealing to coaches and players alike.

"He can sell that program because he's part of that program. He can tell them what it's like to play at Illinois. He's been there, he's done that as both a player and a coach. Also, he's personable, which you have to be.

"The other thing is, you can see through so much of the smoke that so many coaches give you. Jerrance Howard is about as genuine as you can get. Parents appreciate that. He's almost kind of a big brother for his ability to look out for them.

"You combine all those things, and you've got a dynamic recruiter, a dynamic assistant coach. Jerrance Howard is probably the hottest assistant coaching commodity you can get."

Illinois is Jerrance's first assistant coach job. He worked for Billy Gillispie, first at Texas A & M and then briefly at Kentucky before returning to his alma mater. So even though he still needs more experience with scouting and coaching, he learned a great deal about recruiting from Gillispie. He knew what to do, but he needed to prove it.

"He's an honest, down to earth kid," Henricksen explains. "The two knocks after he was hired were a lack of experience and no real connection to Chicago. He works extremely hard at establishing relationships with the right people, which you have to do as an assistant coach. Everyone can try to do that, but to accomplish it is a different thing.

"He's well respected in a short amount of time throughout the Chicago area with the players, with the coaches as well as the AAU coaches. A lot of it goes to his personality and being genuine, and a lot of goes to just pure hard work."

Illinois was behind with some AAU coaches before Howard arrived, but he has made quick inroads. Larry Butler, coach of the Illinois Warriors AAU team, was ambivalent at best toward the Illini. But he coached Jerrance when he was in high school, and now Butler is seeing Illinois in a more favorable light.

"Larry Butler thinks the world of Jerrance Howard. Jerrance played with him, so that problem was solidified the minute he was hired."

Another AAU program is looking toward Illinois thanks to Howard. The Mac Irvin Fire team is absolutely loaded with top talent, including Illini commitments Jereme Richmond and Crandall Head. And their talented point guard Tracy Abrams committed recently to Illinois. Jerrance Howard was instrumental in that recruitment.

"He's really made his way with the Mac Irvin Fire team."

Jerrance's big smile and engaging personality are hard to ignore. He is friendly with everyone from coaches, players, parents and media. And he absolutely loves Illinois. It is a dynamite combination according to Henricksen.

"He just has a presence about him. You always know when he's in the gym. You always know where he's at. Jerrance fits into the AAU scene like a glove with his relationships and dealing with the people who are in charge of AAU basketball."

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