Illinois shouldn’t be counted out as Wilkes narrows his list to three

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Quentin Shaw

Coach Lovie Smith talks with potential basketball recruits Zyon Bel and Kendall Smith before the game against Purdue at Memorial Stadium on October 8.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

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Kris Wilkes made a major decision last week.

He did not announce a commitment to Illinois or any school for that matter. But he did make things a lot more interesting for his recruiters, especially John Groce.

On Oct. 6, the 6-foot-8 wing narrowed his list of five schools down to three. He eliminated Xavier and Connecticut, and he is now only considering offers from UCLA, Indiana and Illinois.

The five-star recruit made official visits to each of his top-three schools. His first was with the Illini on the weekend of Sept. 9. Wilkes then visited UCLA on Sept. 23 and Indiana on Sept. 30. He was originally scheduled to visit Xavier in late October and Connecticut in early November.

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    This is great news for Illinois. Early in the recruiting process for Wilkes, Illinois was never a serious candidate. Scouts have always had the Indianapolis native leaning toward UCLA or Indiana. For Wilkes to include Illinois in his top-three means there was something that caught his attention.

    I think Illinois is clear from the Jalen Brunson effect for now. The Brunson effect occurred when the highly sought after guard from Lincolnshire, Illinois cancelled all of his remaining official visits after trips to Illinois and Villanova, eventually committing to the Wildcats.

    If Wilkes had his mind set on a school, he would have announced his decision to cancel his remaining visits earlier. I also don’t think he would include Illinois in his final list. Instead, I believe he would narrow it down to his top-two choices right away.

    His final list is an interesting one to examine.

    If you stack up Illinois, UCLA and Indiana, the Illini are blown out of the water in comparison. Sure, Illinois has some history. But if you’re going to bring up history, UCLA and Indiana have that covered.

    Eleven national championships for UCLA and five for Indiana do not compare to Illinois’ zero. Illini fans can bring up the 2005 team all they want, but almost winning a championship doesn’t cut it.

    In the last three years, UCLA and Indiana each have two appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The last time Illinois made an appearance in the Big Dance was 2013, and that team’s roster was courtesy of former coach Bruce Weber.

    So what is the deciding factor that is keeping Illinois in the hunt for Wilkes?

    Rather than dwelling on the past, Illinois is gearing up for the future. Talk about history all you want, but the last time UCLA won a championship, Seinfeld was only in season 6, and the last time the Hoosiers hoisted some hardware Jerry Seinfeld was 33.

    For those of you who need help with this reference, it has been 18 years since Seinfeld’s finale, and Jerry Seinfeld himself is 62 years old.

    The future is now for the Illini, and I think Wilkes realizes that.

    The State Farm Center is newly renovated and looks like a million bucks – $170 million to be exact. The Illini athletic department has a fresh new leader in Josh Whitman.

    But the most important factor is the future of the Illinois basketball roster. Wilkes has a chance to be a part of one of the most talented freshman classes Illinois basketball has seen in a long time. Illinois’ class of 2017 is ranked No. 4 in the nation on 247sports.com.

    The Hoosiers are ranked No. 26 in the nation with a class of one four-star, and two three-star recruits. They received a commitment from wing Justin Smith in late September, and it’s hard to picture committing to a school that already filled his position.

    UCLA has the sixth-best 2017 recruiting class. The Bruins currently have three commits – two four-stars and one three-star recruit. But much like Indiana, UCLA also has a 6-foot-8 forward that is too similar to Wilkes.

    The ideal location for Wilkes would be Illinois. Groce has yet to add any wings to his class of 2017. Illinois will be losing Malcolm Hill after this season due to graduation and so Wilkes would also be receiving a good amount of playing time as a freshman.

    During Wilkes’ visit with the Illini, Groce also had commits Jeremiah Tilmon, DaMonte Williams and Javon Pickett on their official visits. Wilkes has met his potential future teammates and seemed to have made a good connection with them during the visit.

    Wilkes has alluded on Twitter that a decision is coming soon. Despite what scouts and analysts say, don’t count the Illini out yet. There was a reason Illinois was included in his top-three.

    Matt is a junior in Business
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    @MattGertsmeier