Who is Illinois’ next recruit up?


Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois’ head coach John Groce shakes hands with Lewis University’s head coach Scott Trost before the exhibition game, held at Assembly Hall on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012.

By Matt Gertsmeier, staff writer

The phrase “next man up” is one that the Illinois men’s basketball team is used to hearing by now.

It’s almost become head coach John Groce’s motto after the last couple of injury-plagued seasons.

That “next man up” mentality could also apply to Groce’s recruiting tactics; the Illini currently have the No. 3 ranked recruiting class of 2017 in the country according to 247sports.com.

The first signing was three-star guard Javon Pickett in January, followed by Illinois legacy DaMonte Williams a month later, and five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon in July. The most recent commitment came from point guard Trent Frazier this past weekend.

So who is the “next man up” for the class of 2017?

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    There’s a chance that 6-foot-7 small forward Abu Kigab might be that man.

    Kigab, a four-star recruit, is the 90th ranked player overall and the 20th best small forward. He’s scheduled to visit Champaign the weekend of Sept. 16.

    The forward from Napa, California, has a knack for attacking the boards and has demonstrated an impressive passing ability for a player of his stature. Kigab could be a suitable replacement for senior forward Malcolm Hill.

    Hill’s shoes will be hard to fill: he led the Illini in scoring this past season, shooting about 43 percent from the field. Kigab’s streaky shooting will need to vastly improve if he hopes to have a similar impact.

    One cause for concern is recruiting predictions have Kigab leaning towards Oregon commitment. His other considered schools are California, UCLA, Tennessee and USC, according to his Twitter account. Kigab is scheduled for a visit to Oregon on Sept. 10 and California on Oct. 7.

    With a guard-heavy recruiting class thus far, the Illini will need to add some size beyond Kigab.

    Another potential recruit is Mayan Kiir. The power forward from Bradenton, Florida, is a three-star recruit and ranked No. 196 nationally.

    Kiir has narrowed his options to Illinois and Louisville. However, Louisville recently received a commitment from center Malik Williams, limiting roster space and a center position that could potentially have gone to Kiir.

    His raw athleticism and defensive presence are fairly similar to former Illini Nnanna Egwu. The potential duo of Kiir and Tilmon would be a defensive nightmare for opponents.

    Other potential bigs Illinois might be after are Victor Uyaelunmo and Jacob Epperson. Uyaelunmo is a highly sought-after four-star center, ranked No. 108 in the nation. A tweet from his account on July 30 included Illinois in his top-eight schools.

    Epperson is a unique case. The Australian native picked up a lot of interest in July after a strong showing at the NY2LA Summer Jam Tournament. Illinois is one of nine schools that have offered Epperson, according to 247sports.com.

    After a few injury-ravaged seasons, it seems like there’s light at the end of the tunnel for Groce and his strong recruiting class.

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