Keeping with the tradition started two years ago by former IlliniHQ recruiting blogger Cody Westerlund, it’s a time to reflect.
And give thanks.
Here are 10 recruiting-related items worth remembering today before you cut the turkey, sit down to watch some football or doze off on the recliner to get ready for a Black Friday shopping spree.
1. Pieces in place. Sure, Illinois would have likely hit the recruiting lottery with the quintet of Cliff Alexander, Leron Black, Michael Finke, Quentin Snider and D.J. Williams. Only three of those high school players are set to play for John Groce. While the events of 13 days ago when Alexander picked Kansas and Snider decommitted to once again recommit to Louisville, the trio of Black, Finke and Williams aren’t bad prospects to build future teams around. In fact, they’re quite good.
2. Simeon pipeline continues. Chicago Simeon has dominated the high school boys’ basketball scene in this state, winning the last four Class 4A state titles. Two players who were instrumental in recent title runs, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, are contributing right now for Groce’s team. Williams is next in line, and Class of 2016 guard Zach Norvell is another potential Simeon star down the road. Safe bet that Groce and his staff have the route to 8147 South Vincennes on the south side of the city memorized.
3. Tate impresses. Loren Tate does each day his column comes out in The News-Gazette. The younger Tate (no relation) has shown poise and an ability to limit his turnovers (always key for a point guard) so far in his brief Illinois career. Keep playing like he is, and in two years, fans might not lament the fact Illinois was unable to land premier point guard prospects like Demetrius Jackson and Snider.
4. Securing God’s country. That’s how our veteran football writer Bob Asmussen refers to his home state of Nebraska. A place Matt Bollant and his staff have become familiar with in the last year. Two Class of 2014 signees in sharp-shooting guard Brooke Kissinger and post producer Chatrice White hail from Nebraska. Add in Homewood-Flossmoor point guard Amarah Coleman and Bollant has reeled in his second straight top-25 recruiting class.
5. Hat game. At least you weren’t the Memphis and DePaul hats sitting in front of Alexander almost two weeks again at Chicago Curie High School. They didn’t even get a glance from the power forward. Ultimately, we all know he’s headed to Kansas for a season before he tries his hand at the NBA. It’s a stretch, we know, and it still produces bitter feelings, we know, but for a brief millisecond, that feeling of Illinois landing Alexander and seeing him pick up the Illinois hat had to feel good. Even if it was only for a fleeting moment. Illinois made a major push at one of the nation's best recruits and nearly landed him.
6. Wide receivers. Bill Cubit has made the Illinois offense relevant again. Having Wes Lunt poised to become the starting quarterback next fall certainly helps. The Illini have four wide receiver commits in the Class of 2014. Two from the junior college ranks (Tyrin Stone-Davis and Geronimo Allison) and two from high school (Mike Dudek and Malik Turner). Stone-Davis redshirted this season at Pierce (Calif.) College so he could have three years of eligibility at Illinois while Allison has 872 yards on 69 catches and eight TDs at Iowa Western Community College. Dudek (1,384 yards on 69 catches, 19 TDs at Neuqua Valley) and Turner (1,308 yards on 65 catches, 13 TDs at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin) are News-Gazette First-Team All-State selections.
7. Alex Golesh. He’s passionate. He’s honest. He’s young. He doesn’t mind the travel. The second-year Illinois football recruiting coordinator has handled what is obviously a difficult job in trying to attract players to a program that has seen better days. The key to Illinois football having a resurgence is bringing in talent. Golesh is tasked with that difficult chore, but it’s one he relishes.
8. State Farm Center. Yes, you still may want to call it Assembly Hall. That’s fine. But the renovations that will take place at the spaceship off First Street and Kirby Avenue will help recruiting efforts. Guaranteed. Combine that with Groce’s relentless approach on the recruiting trail, and the outlook is promising in five-star recruits picking the Illini instead of shunning them.
9. Shootout is back. It’s under a different name (Country Financial Centennial Shootout), but back on the UI campus at State Farm Center. Twelve high school teams will converge in Champaign the first Saturday in December. Finke is the headline recruit, at least as far as Illinois fans are concerned, as he and his Centennial teammates will play Chicago Bogan in the day’s final game. Other future Division I talent on display includes Springfield Lanphier guard Larry Austin Jr. (Tennessee) and Decatur MacArthur guard Marcus Bartley (St. Louis). There’s bound to be some promising underclassmen, too. It’s a good event to return, and the prep basketball scene just wasn’t the same without it last winter.
10. Memorial Stadium. The home of Illinois football will once again host the state football finals in 2014. And every other even year after that. Too bad the annual event isn’t in Champaign-Urbana (thanks Nebraska) this weekend. But potential Class of 2015 targets for Illinois that could wind up playing here next year include New Lenox Providence Catholic wide receiver Miles Boykin, Chicago Marist wideout Flynn Nagel and Benet Academy quarterback Jack Beneventi, among others.