Coleman-Lands commitment is big step for Illini, Groce


Illinois hasn’t had much luck lately with basketball recruits who stage live press conferences for their college announcements.

Jalen Brunson and Cliff Alexander both snubbed the Illini during their televised decisions. Quentin Snider chose the Illini during his, but de-committed before he had a chance to sign on the dotted line.

By now, it’s hard to overcome a feeling of dread when you hear that an Illini target is announcing publicly — the Orange and Blue is almost always No. 2.

Instead, it’s been the spontaneous announcements that have worked in the Illini’s favor as of late. News broke of D.J. Williams’ commitment in the middle of the night last November. Aaron Jordan’s commitment was the icing on the cake after an Illini drubbing of Penn State last January.

And Tuesday, Illini fans learned that Jalen Coleman-Lands — the No. 33 ranked player in the country by 247sports — had committed to Illinois via his Twitter account.

Also Tuesday, Coleman-Lands expressed his wish to be known as Jalen Coleman-Lands, rather than Jalen Coleman. (Good luck fitting that on the back of a jersey).

All three of Groce’s commits in the class of 2015 (Williams, Jordan, Coleman-Lands) have come unexpectedly, and all three are talented players. As of now, it appears that Coleman-Lands is the farthest along of the bunch.

Hailing from La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind., Coleman-Lands is the highest-ranked recruit of Groce’s tenure at Illinois. He will be the first Indiana native to sign with Illinois since 1985. He possesses deadly range with his jumper and is considered by many to be the best shooter in the 2015 class. As an above-average ball-handler at 6-foot-3, he also has the potential to play point guard in college, which was one of Groce’s selling points to Coleman-Lands during his recruitment.

His recruitment should also come as a breath of fresh air to Illini fans. Unlike other recruits we have fawned over in the past, Coleman-Lands kept his recruiting process professional and private. Just two weeks ago, the Illini were considered a dark horse — at best — to land him over Notre Dame and UNLV. He’s been a blip on Illini fans’ radar all fall, overshadowed by Jawun Evans, Elijah Thomas and Jalen Brunson.

Then, things began to accelerate. Notre Dame was off his list. Coleman-Lands moved his Illinois visit up a week, to last weekend. The Illini were suddenly the favorite. And with one tweet, Illinois had their highest-rated recruit in the Groce era.

As Illinois fans scoured YouTube for Coleman-Lands highlights, Groce and his staff already knew they landed an elite talent, having finally broken through on a big-time target. Names began flying around — Steph Curry, Jamal Crawford, Ben Gordon — as people tried to find a comparison for who Coleman-Lands might eventually resemble on the court.

For now, he’s a strong candidate for Mr. Basketball in Indiana his senior year. He’s also an athlete who values his education and is the latest Illini recruit to identify strongly with Groce.

“The reason I chose the University of Illinois is because they offer everything I was looking for in a school: academics, in particular the business program;” Coleman-Lands said in a press release, “the basketball system and level of competition in the Big Ten; and the quality of Coach Groce and his staff.”

Coleman-Lands’ commitment vaulted Illinois’ recruiting class of 2015 to No. 6 in the nation, according to 247sports. With the Illini still pursuing high-value targets like Evans, Thomas and Carlton Bragg, the ranking has the potential to rise.

Just two weeks ago, Illinois fans were despairing when Groce whiffed on Brunson. Now, it’s another Jalen — Mr. Coleman-Lands — that has restored the legend of Groce’s near-mythical recruiting talents. It has long been speculated that the first elite recruit under Groce would set off an avalanche of high-profile commitments to the Illini. Could Coleman-Lands be the first domino to fall?

Groce already has a great haul in 2015. With Evans, Thomas and Bragg still yet to announce their decisions, he has the potential to bring in the best class in Illinois history.

For the Illini’s sake, let’s just hope they announce unexpectedly.

Alex is a junior in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @aroux94.