Analysis of Illinois target Cole Certa’s performance against St. Joseph-Ogden


Carson Gourdie

Although Illinois has recently offered Cole Certa, #5, a scholarship, it remains unclear what his role with the Illini would be. Certa has received three total Big Ten offers, among other schools.

By Carson Gourdie, Sports Video Editor

Illinois recruit Cole Certa showcases three-point potential, high IQ passing

Cole Certa, a three-star guard from Bloomington Central Catholic, was recently offered a scholarship by Illinois. On Tuesday, the Daily Illini went to watch him play, and he showcased potential from deep and made several high IQ passes.

While Illinois missed 24 three-point attempts against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Tuesday, the Illini’s latest offer showcased promise from the perimeter in a premier Central Illinois High School basketball matchup.

Cole Certa, a Bloomington Central Catholic guard who was offered a scholarship by Illinois this past week, scored 22 points and made two three pointers in a 68-55 loss to St Joseph-Ogden. While the sample was small — and one controversially called off — Certa’s reputation as a sharpshooter — “unlimited range” – didn’t waiver tonight. 

“Cole Certa is one of the best shooters in the state of Illinois, and who knows, better than that sometimes,” Bloomington Central Catholic head coach Jason Welch said in an interview.

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    In recent weeks, the three-star product has seen a trio of Big Ten programs offer him a scholarship after earning mid-major offers beforehand. Penn State, Northwestern and now Illinois have noticed Certa, and high school seniors will have to decide if they want to experience Big Ten basketball. 

    “I think I can (translate my game to Big Ten basketball),” Certa said in an interview. “Me and my parents are talking about good fits and I’m excited about it. I’m just working with my high school boys right now.” 

    On Tuesday night, I traveled to St. Joseph’s high school to watch Certa play, and here are my takeaways from his steady performance. 

    Thoughts on Certa’s offense 

    Certa has the height of a Big Ten guard, but sources have questioned whether he has the size and strength to compete in the conference. But against St. Joseph’s, Certa didn’t abuse his athleticism and attack the rim often against inferior competition. Certa opted for midrange and deep shots mostly and showcased nice touch. His floater off the backboard was probably his signature move tonight.

    Certa scored eight points in the first quarter, but early success led to him being double teamed quite often. Certa regularly used his court vision to find an open man and even created assist opportunities from inbound plays. He picked up several assists throughout the game — and the number would’ve been higher if his teammates didn’t miss open layups. 

    “He can really distribute the ball,” Welch said. “He will pass to open teammates because he’s a gravity guy (those defenders) go right to him.”

    Certa was visibly frustrated at times when a teammate would miss an easy shot, but the guard became more assertive offensively in the final quarter. Certa made a bulk of his jumpshots in the second half, although his efficiency waned late. His shot often was too strong from deep, but he also showcased an ability to make contested jumpers. 

    Meanwhile, Certa’s rival, Ty Pence of St. Joseph-Ogden, stuffed the box score. Pence, who also received interest from Illinois before committing to Illinois State, finished the night with 41 points and made several three-point shots. Pence was more keen to utilize his size against smaller competition, and his success from deep came from wide open looks. 

    “He’s really good. He probably got the better end of it today, and I could’ve done better,” Certa said about Pence.

    While Pence commanded the court tonight, Certa’s ability to hit contested shots and facilitate the basketball may translate better in Big Ten play. 

    Thoughts on Certa’s defense

    Welch utilized a 1-3-1 defense and had Certa placed near the top of the key, taking away the guard’s ability to have a major impact in the rebounding department. Certa performed very well with on-ball defense, but his size was neutralized with his position. However, Welch said that the lack of rebounds tonight isn’t indicative of his ability. 

    “He’s second on our team with rebounds,” Welch said. “Typically, we (rebound better as a team) but tip your hat to St. Joes.”

    Aside from the lack of rebounds, Certa runs very well in transition and has shown a tendency to try to force a steal while defending on-ball. Does he have the size to lock down a guard like Jalen Pickett of Penn State in the post? At this stage, probably not. But Certa plays disciplined and would be better suited playing near the perimeter at the moment. 

    Thoughts on potential future with Illinois

    Certa, if he commits to Illinois, likely won’t have an immediate impact like Jaden Epps or Ty Rodgers. Certa will be a project for Brad Underwood, as the coach would be able to utilize his jump shot. But does that happen by Certa’s freshman year or junior year? With the Illini continuing to bring four-star guards and high-level transfers, Certa will have his work cut out for him while trying to earn minutes. 

    Certa’s court vision and perimeter shot provide a glimpse of what he could bring to the Illini. However, Certa will need to gain weight and hit the weight room.

    Another valid question is whether Illinois is the most enticing offer in his mind. Ty Pence is headed off to Illinois State, where he will likely have an impact sooner than if he joined a Power-Six school. Is Certa willing to bet on himself that his play will translate against Michigan and Purdue? Or does he want to be the big fish in the Missouri Valley Conference pond?  



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