Changing the recruiting game for Illinois basketball


Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach John Groce watches his team from the sideline during Illinois’ 78-68 loss to Michigan at State Farm Center on Wednesday, December 30.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini Hoops Columnist

While last year was Illinois basketball head coach John Groce’s first losing season as the Illini’s head coach, it appears Groce is doing everything he can to make sure it is his last.

The class of 2017 has already made a splash in the recruiting realm, and there is still time and space to make it Groce’s best yet.

For anyone who used the summer months to escape Illinois basketball, here’s a recap.

The Illini started in January, signing three-star shooting guard Javon Pickett from Belleville, Illinois. February brought the Illini DaMonte Williams, a four-star guard from Peoria, Illinois and the son of Frank Williams who was a guard for the Illini from 1999-2002.

The biggest signing of all came in July and propelled the Illini to sixth in the nation in 247sports’ class of 2017 recruiting class rankings. Illinois landed 6-foot-10 Jeremiah Tilmon, creating quite a buzz. Tilmon, from East Saint Louis, Illinois, is a five-star recruit and ranked 23rd in the nation and No. 1 in Illinois for the class of 2017.

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    Based off of rankings, Tilmon is the Illini’s second Top-30 recruit in the last 14 years since Jereme Richmond from the class of 2010.

    Groce’s latest pursuit was Jordan Goodwin, the No. 2 player in the state of Illinois. But earlier this month Goodwin announced his commitment to Saint Louis University.

    With the troubles and struggles of the Illini in recent years, the class of 2017 has been a pleasant surprise and there is still room for Groce to fill the void.

    Three scholarships remain for next season, and the Illini are on the lists of some stellar recruits including the highly sought after Paul Scruggs. Scruggs is a four-star, Top-100 recruit point guard from Indianapolis. However, Xavier and Indiana appear to be frontrunners for the race for Scruggs.

    But the Illini have gained some serious interest from other top-100 recruits like Justin Smith and Kris Wilkes.

    Smith listed at 6-foot-7 is going to be a senior at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. One of the sharpest shooters in the state, Smith would certainly help Illinois bang down low and extend the floor with his extensive range. Smith won a state title at Stevenson in 2015 alongside Villanova star Jalen Brunson. The Illini heavily recruited Brunson, but eventually lost him to Villanova, where he would go on to win the 2016 NCAA championship.

    On August 14, Wilkes narrowed down his list to five schools and Illinois made the cut. The others include Indiana, UCLA, Connecticut and Xavier. Wilkes, a small forward ranked 15th in the nation from Indianapolis is a solid ball handler for his 6-foot-7 frame.

    Just outside of the top-100 is Trent Frazier, a four-star point guard from West Palm Beach, Florida. Back in April, Frazier told that Illinois was the front runner. Frazier, a quick ball handler always looks to push the tempo and could thrive in a fast-paced, run-and-gun offense.

    With the fall semester starting, recruitment visits and decisions are just getting under way. Things have certainly picked up speed and there is no sign of stopping quite yet.

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