A closer look at Bollant's first class
Plenty of Illinois sports had a number of recruits ink letters of intent on Nov. 14.
Even with National Signing Day taking place two weeks ago, we'll take a look each Wednesday during the next four weeks at some of the recruits other Illini teams were able to sign.
First up: women's basketball.
Jacqui Grant had decided on DePaul.
The 6-foot-3-inch Maine South (Ill.) High School senior forward who helped lead the Hawks to a third-place finish in Class 4A in 2011 wasn't entirely sold on Illinois.
But Grant is one player the Illini will have available when the 2013-14 season arrives thanks in large part to first-year head coach Matt Bollant and his staff.
"Her AAU coach said 'Go down and spend some time with that staff before you commit (to DePaul),'" Bollant said. "She comes down and two weeks later, she commits to us. If the AAU coaches didn't know what we did at Green Bay, we wouldn't have gotten her to visit."
Bollant reeled in six prospects who could possibly become the cornerstone of the future of Illinois' program.
If former Illinois coach Jolette Law was still at the helm, the names like Grant, senior guard Kennedy Cattenhead from Bolingbrook (Ill.) High School, senior forward Sarah Livingston from Morton (Ill.) High School, senior forward Leah Bolton from Chicago Marist High School, senior guard Taylor Gleason from Goodrich (Mich.) High School and senior guard/forward Miaala Shackleford from Hopkins (Minn.) High School might not have formed Illinois women's basketball Class of 2013 recruits.
Shackleford had committed to Bollant at Wisconsin-Green Bay before he took the job at Illinois, with Gleason committed to Michigan.
It's all a part of getting high school players to believe in "a vision before they can see it," Bollant said. The Illini staff showed incoming recruits video of Wisconsin-Green Bay's first-round NCAA Tournament win against Iowa State last March.
He had to. Illinois hadn't played a game yet with Bollant at the reins.
"Jacqui Grant kind of bought a little bit of the vision," Bollant said. "She had offers from DePaul and other great schools, came down here and (committed) to us. Two days later, Kennedy Cattenhead (committed) to us, and that just got the ball rolling. We needed some kids to grab hold of the vision before they could see it, and we're thankful that they did."
Academics plays a large scope in women's college basketball recruiting, more so than for their counterparts on the men's side.
"Taylor Gleason wants to go into engineering, and us having one of the top five engineering programs in the country makes a difference in recruiting her," Bollant said. "That's such a blessing here is to have the academic piece."
Since Bollant has arrived in Champaign-Urbana, he has landed seven players (guard Sarah Hartwell transferred from Georgia Tech).
And he and his staff still have one scholarship left over that they could use towards the Class of 2014 or on the status of senior Adrienne GodBold, who is academically eligible this semester.
But even with the six high school seniors set to join the program next year, their mark might not be made for a season or two.
Bollant isn't afraid to use a red-shirt season on a player, especially an incoming freshman.
"Of the six kids coming in, it's too early to tell what we'll do exactly, but if ... they're not going to play significant minutes, I don't know why we'd use a year of eligibility when we could red-shirt them," he said. "They're always going to be better their fifth year instead of their first."
For now though, the 14-hour days Bollant along with assistant coaches Mike Divilbiss, Tianna Kirkland and LaKale Malone put in to secure his first recruiting class were worth it, even if the six aren't ranked among the top senior prospects in the country.
Rankings, other than some good publicity, don't mean much to Bollant.
"One of the things we talked about as a staff is we don't want to recruit a kid who feels like they're doing us a favor by coming to Illinois," Bollant said. "When we grind them in practice for two hours and 45 minutes, and we're on them about every single thing they do wrong, is that kid really going to do that? Sometimes those ranked kids, I think that can be an issue. That amount of notoriety they get can create issues. Whether that leads to a kid that's ranked in top 10 or 20 down the road or not, honestly, we're not going to get wrapped up in that. I certainly think recruiting will get easier the longer we're here."