Groce can’t let point guard history repeat itself


By Alex Roux

Recruiting is tricky.

Every year, coaches have to deal with the delicate task of evaluating players and identifying who they can realistically devote their time and resources toward. This must be done while also balancing the intentions and motivations of those young athletes with a limited number of scholarships that the coaches have at their disposal.

Highly ranked recruits come from different backgrounds, and each carry their own sets of baggage. They all have different lists of schools and visits to take on separate schedules. We saw this play out just last fall when John Groce was recruiting a pair of elite point guards, Jalen Brunson and Jawun Evans, to Illinois.

Groce gambled, going all out and attempting to lure one of either Brunson or Evans. In no universe was Groce going to land both McDonald’s All-Americans, and in hindsight I’m not so sure he had a favorable chance to land either one. Brunson ended up choosing Villanova, and Evans picked Oklahoma State.

In the end, Groce wasn’t able to land a true point guard in the 2015 class.

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    Though it’s not identical, we’re now seeing a similar situation play out in the 2016 class with Illini point guard targets Xavier Simpson and Charlie Moore. Simpson and Moore (No. 66 and No. 82 in ESPN’s Top 100, respectively) aren’t as highly ranked as Brunson and Evans were, but the scenario could end in familiar fashion if Groce isn’t careful.

    Groce is still trying to build a solid foundation for his program in year four, and getting a point guard remains vital. Jaylon Tate is the only true point guard on scholarship who will be on the Illini roster past the upcoming season, so the Illini need to shore up their depth.

    Like the Brunson and Evans recruitments, Simpson’s and Moore’s visits are staggered (though Simpson’s and Moore’s are farther apart.) Simpson visited this weekend and had high praise for Groce and Illinois, while Moore is slated to visit the weekend of Sept. 25. And like Brunson and Evans were at the time, Simpson and Moore seem to be heavily considering other schools besides Illinois.

    Even though it hasn’t really paid off yet, playing time at the point guard position has always been one of Groce’s strongest points of leverage.

    Most recruits want to play right away, which is why I think it’s unlikely that Groce has any shot of landing two top-100 point guards like Simpson and Moore in the same class.

    With Simpson’s visit in the rearview mirror, Groce will have to gauge his interest level in other schools, especially if he follows through with visits to Wisconsin (a visit to Madison may be forthcoming) and Miami (Florida). Iowa State is also in the picture.

    Moore will visit California (Sept. 11) and Pittsburgh (Sept. 18) before he makes it to Champaign, with a visit to Memphis also scheduled for Oct. 2.

    So much could unfold in these next several weeks, and Groce will have to have his finger pressed tight on the pulse of both recruitments. If Simpson and Moore both choose to go elsewhere, Groce will need to have a backup plan in place. Te’Jon Lucas out of Milwaukee is a potential fallback option.

    If Simpson or Moore eventually commit to Illinois? Great. If Lucas or some other dark horse does? Well, okay. The Illini need warm bodies to run the show.

    Groce just can’t strike out. He needs to go get somebody, and he must go about it carefully.

    Alex is a senior in AHS.
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