Illini basketball program picks up another recruit

By Jeremy Werner

While Michael Jordan was the guest of honor at Assembly Hall on Saturday afternoon when Illinois hosted Purdue, another Illini visitor will likely have a much larger effect on the future of Illinois basketball.

Tyler Griffey, a 6-foot-9 junior forward from the St. Louis suburb of Ballwin, Mo., verbally committed to Bruce Weber and the Illini last Wednesday and made a visit to watch his future team play on Saturday.

Griffey said he came to a decision after talking to Weber on Jan. 28.

“Coach Weber, on Monday night, told me they had one scholarship left and it was mine to take, other than a couple offers to other kids,” Griffey said. “I kind of told my dad I don’t want Illinois to slip.”

Griffey is the No. 51 junior prospect in the nation and a four-star recruit, according to Scout.com. He joins guards Joseph Bertrand, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson – all in-state prospects – to complete Weber’s 2009 recruiting class.

Weber has also received verbal commitments from five-star recruit Jereme Richmond of Waukegan, Ill., and Crandall Head – Luther Head’s brother – from Richton Park, Ill.

Griffey said the prospect of playing with these commits helped make his decision easier and said that he hopes they can bring the Illini back to an elite level.

“A big factor was the recruits coming in: D.J. Joseph, and Crandall, and everybody,” Griffey said. “I’m looking forward to meeting all the guys and playing with them.”

The Illini’s newest verbal commitment spoke with enthusiasm and excitement about his future. Griffey said Illinois’ disappointing season did not play much of a factor in his decision because the team will look much different when he arrives.

“I’m just trying to look ahead,” Griffey said. “I like to watch practices up here and see how Coach Weber reacts. I like his coaching style and that’s what I pay attention to most.”

Griffey’s commitment is a big win for Weber and assistant coach Jay Price, who, according to Griffey, was instrumental in his decision to choose the Orange and Blue.

The coaching staff has been under intense scrutiny for its inability to land hyped prospects like Eric Gordon, Julian Wright, Sherron Collins and Jon Scheyer.

It seemed Weber was going for the Mark McGwire strategy of only going for the home run, but the Ichiro Suzuki method of collecting as many positive hits as possible seems to be working.

Weber’s 2007 class is deep with contributors – Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis, Bill Cole and Jeff Jordan – who will likely all play significant roles for the Illini during their four years of eligibility.

The class of 2009 is shaping up to make the same impact, although there is no five-star stud in the class.

Weber has shown he can get the most out of his players, and Purdue has shown this season that you do not need a star player to be successful. Plus, one of these prospects may turn out to be much better than scouts think. Weber has likely increased his job security because of his latest recruiting success.

There seems to be a domino effect in effect with each recruit that signs.

Richmond gave Weber his prize when he committed as a highly touted freshman last year following his first high school game. Bertrand gave his verbal a day after Paul and Richardson pledged in October 2007. Head soon followed, spurring Griffey’s decision.

With this momentum and the addition of Jerrance Howard to the coaching staff, the Illini are back in business in terms of bringing talent to the Assembly Hall – and I’m not talking about the greatest to ever play the game.

His Airness was swarmed by camera-wielding fans Saturday at Assembly Hall, but it was Griffey who was surrounded by reporters and camera crews.

Even so, Illinois should be happy M.J. will be associated with its team for a while. He may just help the Illini seal the deal with future recruits.

Griffey thought sitting about 20 feet from the Chicago Bull legend was “pretty sweet.”

“My dad heard that he might be up here, so that’s pretty cool,” Griffey said.

Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]