Point guard Lucas chooses Illinois


Folake Osibodu | Photo editor

Illinois’ head coach John Groce watches the game against Michigan at United Center in Chicago during the Big Ten Tournament on March 12. Groce hopes to strengthen his team through new players.

By Alex Roux

Te’Jon Lucas, a point guard in the 2016 class from Milwaukee, has committed to Illinois.

The 6-foot, 155-pound Lucas committed to head coach John Groce and the Illini Wednesday over Old Dominion and USC. He becomes the first member of Groce’s 2016 recruiting class.

Lucas announced his choice at the Silver Spring Center in Milwaukee, and the decision coaxed a sigh of relief from many Illini fans on social media. Groce desperately needed point guard depth on his roster, one that features one true point guard (Jaylon Tate) past the 2015-16 season. He got one in Lucas.

Lucas is ranked as a three-star prospect by 247sports.com, so it’s difficult to predict exactly what the Illini will get in terms of production. Some three-stars play way above their ranking in college, like current Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke did at Michigan. Others don’t pan out. And many, as their ranking suggests, become decent, but not spectacular, college basketball players.

Lucas had a nice summer on the AAU circuit, catching Groce’s eye and proving himself worthy of high-major D-I offers. He displayed an ability to finish with both hands over defenders at the rim and can put up points in moderation. But the Illini will lean on Lucas’ shifty bursts of speed to get by defenders and dish to open guys like Kendrick Nunn, Aaron Jordan and Jalen Coleman-Lands on the wings. Leron Black will need to be fed in the post, as well.

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Lucas will likely back up some combination of Tate, Coleman-Lands and Tracy Abrams — depending on the latter’s eligibility — at the point guard position as a freshman in 2016-17 before getting the chance to start. Once Lucas adds some muscle to his frame and corrects some flaws in his jumper, he should be well on his way to becoming a capable Big Ten player.

Snagging Lucas is a nice development for future Illini rosters, but it might be even more significant as it relates to Groce. The head coach has taken some heat for failing to land multiple stud point guards over the last few years. His strategy of aiming high might have cost him, as resources were devoted to the top tier of elite talent without having much recourse in case he failed. When he couldn’t convince top-tier guys like Jalen Brunson or Jawun Evans to run the show at Illinois, relationships with potential middle-tier point guard prospects didn’t really exist.

It seems like Lucas currently falls in that middle tier, although whether he plays above or below that distinction going forward remains to be seen. But credit Groce for having multiple viable options in the 2016 class at point guard and not allowing all of them to fall through.

Groce now has a point guard, possibly a very good one. Now his attention turns to filling out the remainder of the 2016 class and beyond.

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