Friday’s trio of visits is positive sign despite weather

By Alex Roux

Illinois head coach John Groce hasn’t had the best luck lately.

His struggles recruiting point guards have been well-documented, and some of them resulted from factors outside his control. Several of his hand-picked transfers didn’t pan out like he’d hoped. And the prize of his 2015 recruiting class, Jalen Coleman-Lands, has a stress fracture in his leg, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll see the floor anytime soon.

So of course when Groce scrambled and got three high-priority recruits on campus Friday for unofficial visits, something had to go wrong. Charlie Moore is a 2016 point guard from Morgan Park, while Jordan Poole and Da’Monte Williams are wings in the 2017 class. Poole is from Milwaukee, and Williams, like his father — Illini legend Frank Williams — goes to Peoria Manual.

Friday was a beautiful, sun-splashed late-summer day in Champaign, and it looked like it was setting up perfectly for the school’s first scheduled Friday night football game in its history. Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas took some heat for the recruiting hit the Illini football program would take if they played on a Friday, since almost everyone they’re recruiting would be preoccupied with their own games Friday evening.

But for Groce, the scheduled Friday night lights at Memorial Stadium looked pretty on paper. Poole, Moore and Williams all live well within driving range of Champaign, and while the football game wasn’t going to be a mind-blowing spectacle, it would give Groce a nice centerpiece for a quick unofficial visit.

Almost immediately after the trio arrived to the game, the only blemish on the Midwest radar Friday evening hovered over Champaign and washed the game away with an epic thunderstorm. It was obviously a bigger bummer for the football team and the fans who came out to watch the season opener, but I’m sure Groce was rolling his eyes at this latest misfortune, too.

But as unfortunate as Friday night turned out to be, let’s be honest. Poole, Moore and Williams are high school basketball players. I’m sure they would have rather watched a quarter or two of the football game than take shelter from a storm alongside dripping fans, but they weren’t heartbroken about missing out on Illini football. The real story here is that they were on campus in the first place.

There are definitely other ways teenage basketball studs could be spending their Friday nights. They could have been at bible study. Or playing video games. Or as the youngsters like to say, they could have been turning up at some party. But they took time out of their weekends to drive down and hang out with Groce and the staff.

Poole is an out-of-state talent in a loaded 2017 class, so continuing to build a rapport with him can only help Groce down the road. Williams will always be tied to the Illini because of his dad, and he’s poised to explode onto the national scene these next two years if he can keep improving. The most immediately intriguing piece of Friday night’s trio is Moore.

Moore’s official visit to Illinois is scheduled for Sept. 25, and Friday’s unofficial visit came on the heels of fellow 2016 point guard Xavier Simpson’s official visit to the Illini campus the previous weekend. Simpson will announce his college decision Wednesday between Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa State.

Unless Simpson and Moore have the unlikely desire to split floor general duties at Illinois, conventional wisdom suggests that the Illini will only land one or the other if Groce can land either at all.

The timing of Moore’s visit suggests that at the very least he’s interested in Illinois. And if you’re looking at the situation through orange-tinted glasses, Moore could be worried about Simpson taking his roster spot, and wanted to show Groce that the interest truly is mutual.

Any way you look at it, Friday night was a good night for Illini hoops. Rain or not.

Alex is a senior in AHS.

[email protected]