Alexander, Snider decisions hinder future of Illinois basketball


CHICAGO — Friday was one of the most important days in Illinois basketball history for all the wrong reasons.

The day began with news that Quentin Snider, the 35th best player in the class of 2014 according to ESPN, decommitted from Illinois to sign with Louisville.

Despite the loss of Snider, Friday was all about Cliff Alexander.

Optimism still surrounded Illinois as Alexander sat at the podium to make his decision in the auditorium at Curie High School. Illinois and Kansas were widely considered the favorites to sign the No. 3-ranked player in the Class of 2014 according to ESPN.

After waiting for over 10 minutes until ESPN gave the OK, Alexander finally announced his decision.

The 6-foot-9 power forward reached for a hat and in a swift motion lifted the orange Illini cap off the table. That was the last time Illinois had hope on Friday.

Alexander quickly exchanged his Illinois hat for a Kansas one and in the process announced his commitment to the Jayhawks.

The decision wasn’t easy for Alexander, who said “I love Coach Groce”. He added that Groce should “keep doing what he’s doing” and that “he did a great job”. It wasn’t anything Groce or the coaching staff did wrong, rather what Bill Self does right year-after-year.

Self produces NBA players, plain and simple. Kansas has a whopping 14 players currently on NBA rosters. When I asked Alexander if the biggest reason he chose Kansas over Illinois was because of Self’s ability to produce more NBA-ready players he said “yeah, that’s what it was right there”. Alexander also admitted that he could see himself being a “one-and-done player”.

Alexander is being fair in his assessment. Illinois has only two players currently on NBA rosters, and one of them, Deron Williams, was recruited by Self.

Illinois hasn’t been able to attract that type of talent since Self left in 2003.

Sherron Collins, Jon Scheyer, Derrick Rose and, infamously, Eric Gordon are just a few of the numerous high-end prospects that have passed on Illinois in recent years. An Alexander commitment could’ve bucked that trend and given Illinois its first top-5 player since Marcus Liberty in 1987. Instead the Illini are left wondering why Illinois isn’t an attractive destination for top recruits.

Snider bolting for Louisville just added insult to injury for the Illini. The eligibility of Ahmad Starks next season could’ve been a reason for Snider’s decommitment. The return of Tracy Abrams and the emergence of sophomore point guard Jaylon Tate also likely factored into Snider’s decision.

There are some positives to next season’s roster even without Snider and Alexander. Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey will be the only departures for Illinois next season while transfers Starks, Darius Paul and Aaron Cosby will all be eligible to play.

Rayvonte Rice has already impressed so far and figures to be an integral part of next season’s team. Nnanna Egwu and Abrams round out a nice senior core for the Illini next season.

Leron Black, the 41st ranked player in the class of 2014, will impress next season as the likely starting power forward. Black officially signing may have been the only bright spot for Illinois on Friday. Michael Finke also joins the Illini, but he’s unlikely to make much of an impact during his freshman season.

Illinois will be deeper next season with multiple skill sets at Groce’s disposal. Maybe Illinois will be ranked at some point in the season or even win an NCAA tournament game or two. There’s nothing wrong with having those goals, but just 24 hours ago those milestones would’ve been a foregone conclusion.

When Illinois lost Snider and Alexander, their Big Ten title aspirations went out the window. In one day Illinois went from a possible national championship contender next season to just another mediocre Illini squad.

As long as Illinois continues to fall short on their pursuits of the big guns, mediocrity will continue to be its standard.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @The_MDubb.