Illinois basketball shows recruits a weekend of what could be

Illinois+basketball+recruits+pose+for+a+photo+before+the+game+against+North+Carolina+at+Memorial+Stadium+on+Saturday.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois basketball recruits pose for a photo before the game against North Carolina at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

By Matt Gertsmeier , Illini hoops columnist

John Groce didn’t sign five-star Kris Wilkes this weekend. But the Illinois head basketball coach has certainly made it harder for the other schools also in pursuit of Wilkes.

This weekend, Illinois hosted Wilkes, the No. 18 player in the nation, as well as three commits for the class of 2017: Jeremiah Tilmon, Javon Pickett and DaMonte Williams.

The recruits couldn’t have come on a better weekend, especially Wilkes, who is also considering offers from Indiana, Xavier, Connecticut and UCLA.

As it currently stands, Illinois has the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation according to 247sports.com. There are still some big names who have yet to commit, but when all is said and done, Illinois will still be one of the best for 2017.

Having three of the four 2017 commits here with Wilkes this weekend was a unique opportunity for Groce. Wilkes was able to interact with his future potential teammates and even see how they might play together.

On Saturday afternoon, Wilkes and the commits attended an open gym at Ubben Basketball Complex. The players from the class of 2017 were joined by current members of the team and over 100 Illini fans who stood courtside and on the balcony.

While it wasn’t as intense as a midseason practice, it served as somewhat of a sneak peek for next season and a chance for Illinois fans to demonstrate their passion for the basketball program. Ubben is an extremely small gym and not designed to host an audience for practices. The thought of even having 50 people in that gym might make a claustrophobe cringe.

That didn’t bother Illinois fans though, and it definitely left a good impression on the recruits.

This trend continued throughout the evening when the recruits attended the Illinois football game against North Carolina. Groce and the recruits arrived to Memorial Stadium about an hour before kickoff.

Saturday’s game was the most crowded and electric atmosphere the stadium has had since its last sellout in 2011. The recruits stood in awe as the crowd chanted “I-L-L-I-N-I” when the football team ran onto the field.

The biggest takeaway from observations at the game is how much chemistry the recruits already seem to possess. They were laughing, messing around and interacting a lot with each other, almost as if they had been buddies for a while.

Over 100 Illinois basketball alumni were also in attendance at the football game. They were brought out and honored on the field during the game. Current center for the Portland Trail Blazers Meyers Leonard was in attendance.

This is extremely significant because recruiting analysts have consistently deemed Wilkes and Tilmon to be potential future NBA players. I’m unsure if the recruits had a chance to meet Leonard or any other alumni, but if they did, it would have been a great way to show Wilkes that Illinois can pave the way to the next level.

This was a jam-packed visit and, in my opinion, a successful one for Groce. So after this weekend, what is Wilkes’ status? It’s still hard to tell. He didn’t commit this weekend, and I don’t think he was intending to. I believe he is going to complete his visits to the four other schools in his top five and then make a decision.

Before this weekend, recruiting analysts did not think Illinois was at the top of Wilkes’ list. But after seeing how the weekend played out, I think Wilkes and analysts are going to give much more thought about the Illini.

On Sunday, Wilkes tweeted out “Great time in Illinois this weekend thank you for showing so much love.”

The tweet ended with six emojis. I’m no emoji expert, but I think that’s a great indication that Wilkes enjoyed himself. Let’s hope that his next tweet about the Illini includes a pen and paper emoji, symbolizing a commitment.

Matt is a junior in Business.

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@MattGertsmeier