Two Illini targets transfer as season draws closer

Illinois’ head coach John Groce reacts to a foul call during the game against Missouri at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.

By Alex Roux

As the leaves turn and the sun sets earlier with each passing day, college hoops fans’ mindsets shift from recruiting watch to game mode.

Especially at Illinois, especially this year. The fall early signing period begins just three weeks from Wednesday, and the Illini’s first game is two days after that on Nov. 13. Head coach John Groce has only secured one recruit — Milwaukee point guard Te’Jon Lucas— in the class of 2016ss, so it makes sense that the return of actual basketball is generating more buzz than Groce’s fourth recruiting class at Illinois.

As signing day creeps closer, it appears more and more likely that Lucas will be the only early signee in Illinois’ 2016 class. Sure, another commitment could happen in the next several weeks, but at surface level it appears that meaningful relationships with remaining 2016 recruits just don’t seem to be there at the moment.

Still, expect Groce to aggressively scour the available pool of talent throughout the winter in hopes of adding another piece in 2016, whether that be another high schooler or a fifth-year transfer. Injured point guard Tracy Abrams fully expects to be back for his sixth year of eligibility in 2016-17, which leaves one scholarship left to be filled next year. Allowing it to roll over to 2017 would mean that Groce was unable to convince even a decent prospect to take it and would be a disappointing reflection on the state of the program. I don’t think that will happen.

The next few weeks of recruiting are worth keeping an eye on in case Groce coaxes a late fall commitment, but Illini fans’ sights have been set on the 2017 class for a while now. The amount of in-state and regional talent and potential has made this particular class headline-worthy for the last couple of years, and two of its key members are going through transitions that could affect the Illini’s chances of landing them.

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Jeremiah Tilmon and Alonzo Verge are both Illini targets and were considered in-state prospects for Illinois just two weeks ago until both announced their intentions to transfer to prep schools out of state.

Tilmon is a consensus top-20 player in the 2017 classss and is considered one of the best big men in the country. He played his first two years of high school ball in East St. Louis, but an ongoing teacher strike at his high school led Tilmon to explore other options this year to avoid jeopardizing his academic standing. Tilmon is transferring to La Lumiere School in La Porte, Indiana, where he will play his junior and senior years at prep school.

Even without a teacher strike precipitating the move, this transition makes sense for a player of Tilmon’s caliber. La Lumiere is one of the top high school basketball programs in the country and is loaded with high-major prospects. The move is also interesting in regards to Groce’s recruitment of the coveted big man.

Illinois will have to beat out schools like Kansas and potentially Kentucky in its pursuit of Tilmon, and his move to La Lumiere could be spun as a positive in Groce’s favor. Illini freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands went to LaLu, and Groce has hosted the entire LaLu team on campus for an unofficial visit. He also has clearly developed a relationship with LaLu coach Shane Herriman to some extent.

Even if that potential Illini edge is wishful thinking, Tilmon’s transfer to La Lumiere certainly doesn’t hurt Groce’s chances.

Verge is an elite guard prospect from Willowbrook, Ill. Like Tilmon, Verge visited Illinois since the end of last basketball season and has drawn high-major interest. Verge announced Saturday he is transferring to Arlington Country Day Prep in Florida to finish his high school career.

With a deep pool of talented guards still within driving distance in the 2017 class, it will be interesting to see if Groce bothers maintaining his pursuit of Verge, who is rumored to have disciplinary issues as well.

This fall continues to feel relatively sluggish for Illini fans with the overall lack of recruiting developments. For now, you can’t blame fans for shifting focus to the upcoming season from Groce’s 2016 recruiting class, his quietest yet.

Alex is a senior in AHS.?

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