Snider a bigger loss for Illinois than Alexander

Editor’s note: This column is written as part of a point-counterpoint. The other column, stating the Cliff Alexander loss hurt more, can be read here.

John Groce doesn’t take well to losing.

A fired-up Groce took to the microphone at a press conference Saturday and told the world: Illinois basketball is in a great place. Not a good place.

It was in a greater place Thursday night, though, if we’re being honest.

The losses of Cliff Alexander and Quentin Snider are devastating to the future of Illinois hoops, but for quite different reasons. But those who think Illinois lost more in Alexander than Snider are mistaken.

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Illinois has two guys in its 2014 recruiting class that embody what it means to be an “Illini guy,” Groce said. As opposed to Alexander, whose personality is something like a combination of Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose — goofy to the point of not taking things seriously, sheltered by basketball to the point of being socially awkward. How else do you explain a guy not understanding how uncool it is to pump fake a hat?

In his second year at the helm of a nationally respected program, Groce is coming to a crossroads. The college recruiting game can be done in two ways: the John Calipari way or the Tom Izzo way. Calipari brings in No. 1 class after No. 1 class, while Izzo recruits guys that stick around, become men and compete against upstart freshmen they’re three years older than in Final Fours.

Snider could have been a cornerstone for Groce’s Illinois teams. Alexander would have been a centerpiece for one season, then a potential lottery pick.

But Groce is a college basketball coach, not an NBA Development League coach. Four years of Quentin Snider would be more helpful to the Illinois basketball program than a season of Cliff Alexander.

“One-and-done” players like Alexander can put you “on the map.” They can open the doors for other top-level recruits to come to town.

Ohio State landed Greg Oden and Mike Conley and became a national power. But in that same season, didn’t Texas grab Kevin Durant? That didn’t change its basketball culture or make it any better a destination than it already was. It doesn’t always work that way. If you’re a Texas fan, aren’t you more fond of T.J. Ford as an alum than Durant?

The best team in Illinois history was the 2005 national runner-up team of Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Roger Powell and James Augustine. Those guys were juniors and seniors. Their names meant something. Their body of work meant something.

How much could Kyrie Irving possibly have meant to Duke?

Illinois fans want guys whom they can watch develop. They want big-time Chicago recruits, too. But a culture of continuity and development is better than a culture of hiring mercenary one-and-dones year after year.

Top Chicago recruits have gone to Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis and Ohio State. It’s all over the place. The only place a true pipeline can start up is in Champaign. And it’s only a matter of time. Alexander is someone Illinois can live without.

Snider, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of guy Illinois needs. He’s the type of player who can turn into a Williams. He can mean something to Illinois fans for who he is, instead of what he is.

For Illini nation, the stronger the connection is between the players and the school, the more meaningful Illinois basketball will be. Alexander’s season will be a distant memory by the time Rick Pitino and Snider reach their full potential together.

At that time, Bill Self will be pitching his program to the next player who seeks to use it as a catapult to the pros. And Kansas fans will be watching high school highlight videos while Louisville fans will get to focus on the basketball being played at Louisville.

Snider may not be the player Alexander is, but he embodies more of what Illinois basketball is about. And Illini fans will lament not having the chance to watch him develop under Groce more than they’ll miss Alexander’s collateral contributions in one season that’s clearly all about himself.

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