McCoy could be an Illinois program changer for Bollant, women’s basketball

By Alex Roux

In mid-November, Illinois basketball fans had their egos elevated for a split-second by Cliff Alexander only to have them brought them crashing back down when he tossed an Illini hat aside in favor of Kansas.

Alexander would have been a program changer, capable of altering the trajectory of John Groce’s program. He’s a McDonald’s All-American and arguably the best big man in the country. Illinois hasn’t had many McDonald’s All-Americans, men or women, in program history. Jereme Richmond achieved the honor in 2010; by spring 2011 he was off Bruce Weber’s team after an underwhelming season and apparent mental breakdown.

The ultimate flop came from the women’s side when Destiny Williams, then the only McDonald’s All-American in program history, appeared in only one game for the Illini before transferring to Baylor in 2010.

The women’s basketball program learned last week they had secured their second McDonald’s All-American in school history when signee Chatrice White received the honor. Any McDonald’s All-American has the potential to make an immediate impact, and for head coach Matt Bollant to land one in only his second year is impressive. But his biggest recruiting accomplishment could come out of the class of 2016, right from his own backyard.

Tori McCoy is a sophomore at St. Thomas More in Champaign. She’s 6-foot-4 and is ranked the No. 2 player in the class of 2016 by Blue Star Basketball. She led the Sabers to the Class 1A state title game last year as a freshman. She’s received more than 10 scholarship offers, and the fact that legendary Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma traveled to Champaign last fall to watch her practice says enough about the level of interest McCoy is receiving nationally.

So the No. 2 player in the country has Illinois ties and national interest from powerhouse basketball programs. Sounds like Cliff Alexander’s bio. 

If Bollant ends up securing a commitment from McCoy to play for the Illini, the women’s basketball program would make a giant leap overnight. Although she wouldn’t wear the orange and blue for another two full seasons, the impact of landing a top-five player would be felt immediately after a verbal commitment. 

Getting McCoy would legitimize Bollant as a top recruiter, proving that his 23rd-ranked 2014 recruiting class was no fluke. Other top recruits and coaches would take notice and would have to accept Illinois as a player on the national scene.

Of course, this is all hypothetical. McCoy could spurn the local school and take her talents to UConn, where she would be an immediate contender for a national championship. She could go to Baylor, Notre Dame or Tennessee; schools that are pretty much everything Illinois is not when it comes to women’s basketball.

No clear leader has emerged in the hunt to land McCoy, and as a sophomore she still has plenty of time to make up her mind. Two years is an eternity in the recruitment process, but one thing is for sure: Illini fans should be excited they’re in the conversation for such a highly ranked player. 

Even if McCoy is only considering the Illini because of proximity, simply being in the conversation can elevate the national perception of a program.

Maybe McCoy never pans out. Only time will tell if she can be an “impact freshman,” like Anthony Davis, or if she ends up a disappointment like Jereme Richmond. She could be Illinois’ version of Candace Parker, or another Destiny Williams. Either way, McCoy is a once-in-a-generation athlete for this area. Her recruitment may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Bollant.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and