Recruiting class of 2015 will be an adventure

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Illinois’ head coach John Groce instructs his team during the quarter-final game of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament. Groce is currently gearing up for fall recruiting season.

At a school like Illinois, where bowl games come around about as often as the World Cup, it is no surprise that basketball reigns supreme.

While fall is college football season, it’s also the time of year when basketball recruiting is at its apex. Many high school seniors opt to announce their decisions during the early signing period in mid-November.

Recruiting fever does not spare the Illini fan base. Illinois basketball is still waiting on its next Dee Brown, and fans are hungry for an elite recruiting class. It’s not uncommon for Illini fans to be distracted during a home football game by a big-name basketball recruit making the rounds at Memorial Stadium on his official visit to campus.

I have mixed feelings about the recruiting world of college sports. It breeds shady characters and has the potential to stain great programs. It takes the focus away from the current team. It leads to the irrational obsession over the life decisions of teenagers.

I’ve seen middle-aged adults strain to pull meaning out of recruits’ Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat profiles, searching for clues or hints about their college destinations that almost certainly aren’t there. Any reasonable person should not get too wrapped up in the lives and whims of high school kids.

But then again, sports fans are unreasonable by nature. A sports fan’s mood can be altered by athletes they’ve never met, playing sports in arenas they may never visit. And as dumb as it sounds to outsiders, following recruiting can be very, very exciting. Rest assured, it’s going to be an exciting fall for Illinois basketball fans in terms of basketball recruiting.

When John Groce was hired in March 2012, he wasted no time in locking down a five-member recruiting class, headlined by top-100 guards Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill.

Since then, he has burst onto the national recruiting scene by being in the conversations for elite recruits like Demetrius Jackson, Quentin Snider and Cliff Alexander. While those recruitments didn’t end in the Illini’s favor, merely being in the conversation for top talent has given fans confidence in Groce as a recruiter. He’s already landed in-state players DJ Williams and Aaron Jordan to his 2015 recruiting class, and is looking to add more.

As the 2015 school year begins with high school basketball season on the horizon, Groce and the Illini are in the mix for several high-profile targets. In a perfect, orange Illini world, this will be the year where Groce gets a commitment from at least one five-star prospect, paving the way for a talent pipeline to Champaign for years to come. Many fans expect him to do just that.

Maybe Groce will land a big fish this fall, maybe he even lands a haul of them. But even if he doesn’t, the process promises to be exciting and intense. So far, Groce has lined up official campus visits from Jalen Brunson, Jawun Evans, Elijah Thomas, Doral Moore and Shake Milton for the fall. All are currently ranked as top-100 players in the country, with Thomas, Evans and Brunson generating the most buzz. Carlton Bragg, an elite 6-foot-8 swingman with NBA potential has shown interest in the Illini as well. If Groce were to even land one or two of these players, the recruiting season will have been a success.

Three months is an eternity by recruiting standards, and a lot can change between now and November. Speculation will run rampant and rumors will fly. But as it stands now, Groce has given Illini fans good reason to be optimistic. There are some very good basketball players considering the Illini right now. And they’ll be on campus soon to see what we have to offer.

Buckle up for a wild recruiting season, Illini fans. There’s no guarantee you’ll be rewarded in the end, but you should definitely enjoy the ride.

Alex is a junior in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @aroux94.