Looking to the future for Illinois basketball

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Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach John Groce watches his team during the 89-58 loss to Purdue in the quarterfinal game of the Big Ten Tournament.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

Illinois basketball’s class of 2017 has been exciting to watch develop. The class currently ranks No. 3 in the nation on 247sports.com and still has room to grow. But when is it time to lay off the gas?

There are two more scholarships available for the class of 2017. Head coach John Groce has been hosting, pitching and still remains in pursuit of some recruits.

But, Groce certainly doesn’t need to force anything.

He’s already done a great job of putting together a talented class of 2017 consisting of five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon, four-star guards DaMonte Williams and Trent Frazier and three-star guard Javon Pickett.

The Illini have hosted five-star forward Kris Wilkes and four-star forward Abu Kigab. There are a few more targets on Illinois’ radar including forward Mayan Kiir and center Jacob Epperson.

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    Any sort of combination of Wilkes, Kigab, Kiir or Epperson is a win. If the spots are not filled, there are still some directions Groce and his recruiting can go.

    Instead, his attention will shift to the class of 2018, and Groce has already established some targets.

    Illinois hosted Ayo Dosunmu for an unofficial visit the weekend of Sept. 2. Dosunmu is a 6-foot-3 guard ranked No. 34 in the nation and No. 1 in Illinois according to 247sports.com.

    The last time Illinois landed the No. 1 high school player in Illinois was 2010 with Jereme Richmond. It would be nice to retain that status with Dosunmu.
    While it’s still early in the process, a few analysts have predicted his commitment to the Illini.

    Another major target for the class of 2018 is Tim Finke, the younger brother of Illinois forward Michael Finke. Tim is listed as a 6-foot-6 shooting guard ranked No. 51 in the nation and No. 2 in the state. Talk about a solid one-two punch with him and Dosunmu. Even a recruiting class consisting of only those two would be an elite class.

    If a spot is open for the class of 2018, one has to think that Tim would be a lock for the Illini given that he is from Champaign and would be able to play alongside his brother for a year.

    The class of 2019 is where things open up and can get really interesting. Illinois will lose five seniors after the 2017-2018 season, providing plenty of scholarship space for Groce to work with.

    This is tough to get a read on. The class of 2019 are currently sophomores in high school, and a lot can change in their years leading up to graduation. Illinois’ targets for the class of 2019 currently makes up a short list.

    However, a few names have already grabbed some attention.

    A few targets worth noting are power forward Nobal Days and point guards Tyger Campbell and Markese Jacobs. Days is ranked No. 26, and Campbell is ranked No. 27 in the nation. Jacobs hails from Chicago and is a top-rated player in Illinois.

    Here’s what I think will happen.

    With Kendrick Nunn’s departure, there is an open scholarship for this season.

    It’s too late for Illinois to pick up or add someone to the team and fill that scholarship. My guess is that the scholarship will be given to senior walk-on Alex Austin.

    One more scholarship will be used for the class of 2017 and that will be Kiir. The last scholarship spot will be given to walk-on Cameron Liss for his senior season.

    The class of 2018 will have two open scholarships with Liss graduating and Leron Black declaring for the NBA draft after a breakout junior season.

    Black will declare for the draft immediately after the conclusion of Illinois’ Sweet 16 finish, giving Groce a lot of time to pursue recruits for next season.

    Those two spots will be used for Dosunmu and Finke. The season after is far too early to make any predictions.

    Of course, all this can change depending on transfers, the draft or getting cut.

    And don’t get me started about the high school freshmen in the class of 2020.

    Matt is a junior in Business                [email protected]  @MattGertsmeier