Connor Serven earns dream opportunity

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Photo Courtesy of Connor Serven's Instagram

Illinois Basketball commit Connor Serven goes for a layup during a match against Brother Rice High School.

By Gabby Hajduk, Sports Editor

Chicago St. Rita senior Connor Serven took a visit to Illinois during its last regular-season game against Iowa on March 8. Two days prior, Serven’s high school career wrapped up after St. Rita fell to Whitney Young in the IHSA 4A Regional Championship. 

Serven’s senior year was the only high school basketball season in which he competed without injury. 

The 6-foot-8 forward dislocated both knees between his freshman and sophomore year at Bushnell-Prairie City High School. Serven transferred to St. Rita prior to his junior year, and he started receiving looks from Division I programs. Shortly after, he suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder prior to his 17U Amateur Athletic Union season, putting those looks to a screeching halt. 

“It was awesome,” Serven said. “It was always my dream to play D1. It would be great to get an offer from a D1 school and take an official visit and all of that. They were just going off what I was doing in the season and really pushing for me to play AAU. Most of them were going to come watch me play AAU, then I injured my shoulder and everything went downhill.”

While the dream of playing at a Division I program looked bleak, Serven wasn’t ready to let years of work go down the drain. Instead, he reached out to his AAU coach, Gavin Sullivan of the Illini Irish, who had a connection with Illinois assistant coach Ron “Chin” Coleman. 

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    Things started to click between Coleman and Serven quickly. Following Illinois’ win against Iowa, Coleman brought Serven down from the stands to the locker room and offered him the preferred walk-on position on the spot. 

    Serven didn’t verbally commit to Illinois until Saturday, but the decision wasn’t too hard because it has always been his dream to play basketball for the Illini. 

    “The town I’m from, there’s just a ton of Illinois people here,” Serven said. “A lot of my friends from here went there, and a lot of my friends from St. Rita went there. Growing up, they were always my favorite team to watch and just kept growing on me as I got older.”

    Serven hasn’t been in touch with any of his future teammates yet, though he is close friends with a few of the Illinois basketball managers who went to St. Rita and have younger brothers Serven knows. 

    “They’ve already been talking smack about working me with the pad in practice,” Serven said. “They were really pushing for me to do it. They weren’t sure though, when I finally said I was going to do it they were just like, ‘oh.’ They were really excited for me; I think it’ll be a really great time.”

    While he is just as excited for himself, Serven understands his initial role will be different than the other guys in his class, which includes four-star guards Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo, along with three-star forward Coleman Hawkins. 

    Serven knows there will be a learning curve with practicing against bigger and stronger guys, but he’s confident in his ability to improve himself and the team. 

    “It’s definitely going to take a lot of hard work, and I’m definitely a lot weaker than the guys there right now. So, it’s going to take a good mentality everyday. I’m probably going to get beat down every single day by Giorgi (Bezhanishvili), Kofi (Cockburn), all the big guys in there. It’ll be tough, but I think once I get stronger and get in shape to play, maybe junior or senior year, get a good role.”

    In addition to getting stronger, Serven believes his developed shot will bring something new to the table in practice. He averaged 8.8 points on 51.5% shooting from the field during his senior season. 

    While Serven will be forced to adjust his game and work harder than ever before, physically and mentally, thinking about putting on the Illini uniform and stepping out into State Farm Center for the first time makes everything worth it. 

    “I’ve heard everybody say it’s not a real offer or whatever but preferred walk-on, I’m on the team,” Serven said. “I’m getting the opportunity all of the other guys that have offers get. To me, it definitely meets the dream.”

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