In an ode to what my predecessor, Cody Westerlund, unveiled last year at this time, here's a list of 10 recruiting items to be thankful for with Thanksgiving fast approaching. Before the Lions, Cowboys, Jim Nantz, turkey, mashed potatoes, pies and tryptophan become the buzzwords of your world, we'll woo you into relaxation with this list.
1. John Groce — Not only is the first-year Illinois basketball coach going for a Maui Invitational championship tonight against Butler (and good friend Brad Stevens) and has Illinois undefeated at 5-0, he has made a splash recruiting at a national level in his first eight months on the job. Expect that trend to continue in the future.
2. On-campus visits by top recruits — In baseball, a .500 average is revered. That's Groce's batting average in terms of landing recruits (hitting on Kendrick Nunn and Austin Colbert, missing on Demetrius Jackson and Xavier Rathan-Myes) after official visits this fall. Not too shabby.
3. Class of 2014 — While Keita Bates-Diop of Normal U-High would have been a significant get for the Illinois program, there's still big fish out there for Illinois to reel in, especially in-state. You'd have to think the chances are good Illinois lands one of the state's top players to fill the limited scholarships Illinois will have available to offer by this time next year.
4. Simeon pipeline — Chicago Simeon is one of the most well-known basketball teams in the country. Landing players from that program (Nunn and Jaylon Tate) and having a solid relationship with one of the country's most influential high school coaches in Robert Smith is nothing but an added bonus for Groce and Illinois.
5. Tracy Abrams — The sophomore's improved play so far this season has tempered cries for a top-flight point guard. It may turn out that the best player to run Groce's system is already in uniform.
6. Building up the ranks — Tim Beckman still continues to add recruits to his first full recruiting class. So far, he has 21 commits set to sign in February, including possible game-changers in Aaron Bailey and Caleb Day. These are all his own players that he and his staff have brought in, and with the number at 21 right now, that's pretty good considering the season Illinois has had.
7. Future digs — Only one Illinois football commit, Belleville Althoff's Merrick Jackson, will play this weekend at Memorial Stadium among the eight state championship games that will take place. Althoff and Jackson, a defensive tackle, will line up against Mercer County at 1 p.m. on Friday in the Class 2A state championship.
8. Sleepers — While Michael Hermosillo was known in and around the Ottawa, Ill., area, not much was known of the talented running back throughout the state. The athletic Hermosillo compiled nearly 2,000 rushing yards this fall in leading the Pirates to the 6A quarterfinals.
9. Bollant's energy — Matt Bollant, the new Illinois women's basketball coach plays an attractive style to today's players. The players he wasn't able to land at Wisconsin-Green Bay, he'll have a better chance of landing at Illinois. That's already evident in his first recruiting class.
10. The readers — Whether you agree, disagree or disregard what I've written in terms of recruiting during my first three months on the beat, I appreciate all the feedback, good, bad and indifferent. It lets me know you're reading and have an interest.