Groce set to host a double dose of Xavier

Illinois’ men’s basketball head coach John Groce addresses the media at Ubben Basketball Facility in Champaign on June 29.

By Alex Roux

Most popular athletes have cool nicknames.

“Air Jordan.” “King James.” Anthony “Sizzle Chest” Rizzo is my personal favorite.

So when it was announced that 2016 basketball recruits Xavier Sneed and Xavier Simpson would take official visits this upcoming weekend to the Illinois campus, the local sports-nickname-generator started churning.

Since Simpson and Sneed share first names, a combined nickname is necessary. And since they’re both named Xavier and are taking their Illini visits at the same time, the obvious next step is to dub them the “X-Men”. I saw Scout’s Derek Piper make this reference first when he reported Simpson’s intention to visit, so I’m not taking credit for the nickname, which is as convenient as it is cool.

The X-Men are officially slated to begin their visits Friday, Aug. 28. But before you spend your weekend scouring the campus for a guy with metal claws on his hands and furry blue superheroes, remember that I’m talking about basketball players, not comic book characters.

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And with Illinois’ 2016 recruiting class still sitting empty, basketball players are exactly what head coach John Groce needs.

Simpson and Sneed may share the same name as well as their 2016 designation, but they play different positions. Simpson is a point guard, fills a more immediate need at Illinois and is also rated slightly higher than Sneed in the national rankings.

Groce’s recruiting struggles at the point guard position have been discussed at length, but landing a guy like Simpson would go a long way toward silencing that discussion after this season. Simpson is a consensus top-100 player in his class, and is a 5-foot-11, well-built distributor who can score the ball when he doesn’t dish.

Simpson plays for Lima High School in Lima, Ohio, and seemed set on attending Xavier University (Ha!) a few months ago before cancelling a previously scheduled decision date in May. Simpson went on to have a nice summer with his King James AAU team, playing in marquee Nike events like the Peach Jam (where he averaged 19 points and seven assists per game) and the Nike Global Challenge.

Xavier University is out of the picture for Simpson, and he currently has offers from Wisconsin, Purdue, Miami, Iowa State and Indiana along with the Illini. His Illinois visit is sandwiched between an August visit to Iowa State and a September 11 visit to Miami.

Sneed is a 6-foot-5, 180-pound wing player from the St. Louis area, and he plays on the same St. Louis Eagles AAU team as some of the Illini’s highest-priority targets in the 2017 class. Illinois’ roster certainly isn’t short on wings, but Sneed’s athleticism is desired on any team. Along with the Illini, he’s currently considering Creighton, Kansas State, Wichita State and Xavier.

Assuming Groce follows the blueprint of past official visits, we have an idea of how this weekend’s festivities will play out. Look for the staff taking the X-Men around campus on golf carts on Friday. And although there won’t be a football game, I would be surprised if Groce doesn’t take Simpson and Sneed to the Stuff Huff volleyball game Friday night, which will be intense as always. A team dinner at Groce’s house is standard procedure as well.

Last time Groce hosted a fall double-visit, he went 1-for-2 between Jalen Coleman-Lands and Elijah Thomas. Any commitments this weekend would break the seal on the Illini’s 2016 class.

Let the fun begin.

Alex is a senior in AHS.

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