Moving on from Jawun Evans: Where John Groce goes from here


Shortly after Jawun Evans picked Oklahoma State over Illinois Wednesday, Sports Illustrated released a story on Illini head coach John Groce.

The article provided some solid insight into how Groce approaches these high-stakes recruitments, and how he deals with his prized targets committing elsewhere.

“It’s the old deal, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” Groce told SI. “For us, we’re just wired that way. You might be disappointed (at recruiting losses) because you put a lot into it. That’s pretty natural for any person that does that, when they put their mind, heart and soul into something. But we don’t spend any time like getting discouraged by that. … We keep swinging here. That’s just kind of who we are. We swing.”

That quote from Groce tells us all we need to know about his recruiting strategy. With a solid 2015 class already in his back pocket, his plan is to swing for the fences and go for the top dogs, and he’s sticking to it. Groce took a big swing at Evans. His staff put in copious amounts of time and effort trying to draw him to Champaign.

Evans made his decision. We can speculate all we want about how the commitment of Jalen Coleman-Lands or the extension of Tracy Abrams’ career might have discouraged Evans from becoming an Illini, but it doesn’t matter. For Groce, it’s now about moving on after Jawun.

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    Groce is currently mid-swing on 2015 big-man Elijah Thomas, and he appears to still be in good position with the Texas native. It’s a bit troubling that Thomas’ friend and AAU teammate Evans is now heading to one of the schools that is also recruiting Thomas. Common sense tells us Evans will try to lure his 6-foot-9 buddy to Oklahoma State.

    But an intriguing tweet Wednesday gave Illini fans a glimmer of hope. In response to Evans’ tweet announcing his intent to play for Oklahoma State, Thomas’ mom (who has been very pro-Illini on social media) tweeted the following at Evans:

    “Noooooo! Congrats.”

    We should know by now to put little stock in tweets from high school athletes and their families, but this is interesting. The only schools that shared a spot on both Evans’ and Thomas’ final lists were Oklahoma State and Illinois. The dismayed response from Thomas’ mom seems to indicate she wished Evans would have gone elsewhere, and the only other school that makes sense is Illinois. Assuming she knows which school her son is favoring, in my eyes the tweet reads like this: 

    “Too bad you aren’t going to Illinois, you would have been great there with my son. Congrats.”

    Evans’ first pro-Cowboy post on Twitter garnered roughly 250 retweets by mid-afternoon Wednesday (at the expense of a mass exodus of pro-Illini followers). Last week, Jalen Coleman-Lands’ Illini commitment tweet was retweeted more than 1,500 times. The social media presence of Illini fans is overwhelming. If nothing else, Illini fans have shown recruits how deeply they care about Illini basketball, and that’s a positive.

    Anyway, back to the basketball recruiting trail, where Thomas will take an official visit this weekend to SMU. I wouldn’t expect a final decision from him until after he takes all his official visits, with his last one coming Oct. 10 at Texas A&M.

    Besides Thomas, Groce still has at least three more legitimate targets for his 2015 class in Carlton Bragg, Doral Moore and Jamal Murray (if he re-classifies from the 2016 class). Another possible option is YouTube sensation and former Mac Irvin Fire point guard Marcus LoVett, who has said he wants to stay in Illinois for college.

    Groce has his work cut out for him. He didn’t have to battle any blue-blood schools near the end of his previous point guard pursuits in the 2015 class, but the chase of Bragg, Moore and Murray will be a different story.

    Moore is on Kentucky’s radar. Syracuse is likely the program to beat for Murray. And Bragg offers the most intimidating list of schools for the Illini to compete with: UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona. Groce visited Bragg Tuesday, as evidenced by a picture on Bragg’s Instagram.

    Evans and Jalen Brunson are out of the picture. Ideally, a talented point guard or big man would fill out Illinois’ 2015 class. With one scholarship still to give out for 2015, Groce will continue to aim high.

    And we shouldn’t want it any other way.

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