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Matt Daniels is on the trail of Centennial's Michael Finke during his postseason run. Ask him about the junior basketball star - or anything else - during his weekly chat (1 p.m. Fridays). Submit questions any time.
Greetings everyone on another cold, gray afternoon in Champaign. Seems to be the theme of the week here. Matt Daniels joining you all for the next hour to answer any recruiting related questions that come my way.
I'll be checking out Illinois commit Michael Finke tonight as his Chargers take on Urbana in a Class 3A regional final game. Finke had a nice game on Tuesday night with 18 points and 13 rebounds with John Groce in attendance.
Enough rambling about the Champaign big man. Let's get started.
I do not know anything about high school basketball, but I believe that Joe Hendrickson lists Jaylon Tate as the 13th best Illinois B-Ball player in the class of 2013. Do you anticipate that he will be able to contribute much in his first couple years on campus? (sorry...I know this isn't exactly an original question).
Hey phatt wheeley,
Joe Henricksen knows his stuff. His opinion is highly respected not only among the media in the state, but also from Division I coaches.
A key thing to remember about Jaylon Tate, the point guard from Chicago Simeon who will join John Groce's team next year, is that before he transferred to Simeon prior to his junior season, he was considered one of the better players in the Chicago area when he was at De La Salle.
After coming off the bench last year for the Wolverines, he has emerged as the team's point guard this season. He has struggled for a few games, prompting coach Robert Smith to bench him at times, but he has had steady, if not spectacular games, more times than not.
If Simeon wants to win a fourth straight Class 4A state championship, Tate will have to play well and log significant minutes on the court.
As far as next season, I doubt Tate will find himself in the starting lineup from the get-go, but he could provide a complementary ball handler to Tracy Abrams. With the graduation of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, Illinois will need ball handlers for next season and beyond. Tate fits that bill.
What is John Groce's philosophy on offering scholarships to freshmen and sophomores? Does he look at eighth-grade kids as Bruce Weber did with Lanphier's Larry Austin?
John Groce and his staff understand recruiting is all about building relationships. So far, to my knowledge, no scholarships have been offered to any freshmen, but he has doled out plenty to sophomores in what will be a key Class of 2015 for Illinois. Some of the players he and his staff are after include Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson, St. Joseph-Villa Angela (Ohio) forward Carlton Bragg, Chicago St. Rita's Charles Matthews and many more.
In regards to eighth-grade players, haven't heard if Groce has made it out to any junior high games, but if there is a player in the Class of 2017 (hard to type that year right now considering it's four years away), Groce and his staff are most likely aware of them. They're very thorough in their recruiting and dedicated, staying on prospects from early on in their high school career and continuing that relationship if they feel the player is the best fit for their program.
I'm trying to figure out why they signed five players for the upcoming class knowing only one scholarship was available for the 2014 class. Will players be forced to leave the program in order to make room? If so, will this not hurt relations?
Hey Anonymous Jim,
Good question. To me, the five players they will bring in with the Class of 2013 all fill needs they will lose with the graduation of Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, Tyler Griffey and Sam McLaurin. Kendrick Nunn is a slashing guard who will have to improve his outside shot, but brings a toughness and tenacity on the defensive side. Malcolm Hill is a straight scorer. Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert could help out on the inside while Jaylon Tate will give Illinois added depth in the ball handling department.
Not every year will feature an exact number of scholarships handed out. Of course, every college coach would love if each class featured 3-4 players, that way there's no dropoff in any season. The Class of 2014, which currently has one commit in Centennial's Michael Finke, could very well add 2-3 more players given some of the current underclassmen transfer. That situation will play itself out in the next several weeks.
It could hurt relations, it could not. Players who come to Illinois want to play. If they don't play or contribute in the first two years, they'll most likely want to think about transferring. It's all a numbers game, and like John Groce has said before regarding the scholarship situation in the seasons ahead, he can count.
Matt, thanks for taking my question. Just wondering, in the recruits the Illini are pursuing in basketball, do any play the game with fire and passion like Wally Szczerbiak who always reminded me of a Tasmanian Devil? So many high school kids with talent seem to want to play the game with cool rather than energy. At some point, most seem to get the idea after much prodding by the coaches....and some never do. Would love to see that kind of high motor attitude implanted into a couple of soph power forwards on the Illini roster. So many young players think they play hard, until they encounter a player who really does. Then again, some, like Nnanna, do everything at a high energy level, but are still learning the game and skills. Would love to see a skilled player like that Fightin' for the Illini.
Hey Pogo in Springfield,
I don't think John Groce will recruit the type of player that doesn't bring energy. Just look at him. He's a constant bundle of energy during games (I swear he must walk about a mile or two pacing the sidelines) and expects the same from his team. It's a delicate balance in trying to lure in high-profile recruits who have already had the notoriety, the exposure and the repeated pats on the back from loved ones talking about how great they are ... until they get to college and their coach sees all these flaws in their game.
Everything I've seen and heard about the Class of 2013, the players fit those intangibles, but it's easy to say that now. We'll see what it's like once they get adjusted to the college game.
And thanks for bringing out a name from the past in Wally Szczerbiak. The boy could play, at least in college.
Heard anything about a potential visit from Cliff Alexander tomorrow?
That's what the rumor mill is circulating. I asked Marcus Jackson, the beat writer for Illinois basketball, and he said he heard that might be a possibility. I'd expect Illinois to stay in contention with the Chicago Curie big man, who is playing for a Class 4A regional championship tonight in Oak Lawn at Richards High School.
Getting Alexander in on a day the Assembly Hall will have all sorts of festivities to celebrate its 50th anniversary would be a huge selling point for Groce and his staff. Plus it should allow Illinois to showcase its style to one of the most coveted big men in the Class of 2014 in a game Illinois should win easily against Nebraska.
Tell me about Austin Colbert. I know he has been sitting a good part of this year, but his numbers do not seem impressive.
Well, his name is pronounced like Col-bert. Not Col-ber, like the snarky Comedy Central host. He has had good games at times, just not with overwhelming point totals all the time. He is playing with a Division I guard in Jared Sina, a Northwestern signee, so he might not get all the post touches in the world. A lot of times, with post players, it's a matter of them just getting touches. When a guard is going off from three-point range, which has happened in multiple games this season for Gill St. Bernard's, Colbert won't put up the points he is capable of.
He had to sit out 30 days due to New Jersey state transfer rules, so he didn't start playing until Jan. 19. He has helped Gill St. Bernard's turn from a team hovering around the .500 mark to one that is 18-7 now. He's a top 100 recruit according to several recruiting services, so he has the skills, even if the numbers he has put up haven't been overtly impressive.
Given we have a recruiting class coming in with a legitimate player in each of the 5 respective positions, and Finke slated for the 2014 class, what other types of needs would he be looking to fill in 2014 and what names are he currently looking at to fill those needs?
Point guard. Point guard. Point guard. Illinois has had to adjust the style John Groce ideally wants to play this season because there's no true point guard on the roster. Tracy Abrams has done an admirable job at times, but he didn't really play the point guard role coming out of Chicago Mt. Carmel High School. That'd be like having an option-style quarterback in high school be thrust into the starting job of a spread offense. There's going to be some difficulties and bumpy moments.
JaQuan Lyle and Larry Austin Jr. are two names that come to mind right away about who could fill the lead guard spot, although they're not traditional point guards. Lyle is capable of playing a wing with his size (6-5) while Austin is more of a combo guard. That said, the point guard Groce wants for his system is like a combo guard in that they can handle multiple roles (scoring, distributing, defending, leading, etc.), so the traditional point guard of the past in the mold of say, a Bobby Hurley, are long gone.
Couple questions regarding Illini basketball recruiting:
1) Without naming names of players potentially leaving the program, what percentage chance would you assign to another scholarship opening up for 2014?
2) When a recruit accepts a scholarship offer, is there room for coaches to make last-minute maneuvers or is it a done deal? Specifically, I'm wondering what happens in a scenario where recruit "A" is about to commit or commits, and coaches would rather have recruit "B," who is also close to committing.
Hey HAL 9000,
1) I'd say there's a 95 percent chance another scholarship opens up for the Class of 2014. When exactly that will happen, I'm not sure, but look for it to possibly take place before the summer begins.
2) Good question. To have success in recruiting, coaches are always looking not just at players who are No. 1 on their priority list, but also second and third options. It's safe to assume that if Demetrius Jackson had committed to Illinois instead of Notre Dame last fall, Jaylon Tate most likely would not be playing at Illinois next season. Every recruiting story is different and the timetable each coach has in mind can be different. For example, when Michael Finke committed two months ago, he told me Groce said there was no pressure or hurry to commit. That said, committing early secures a player's future that much earlier and allows teams to proceed with future recruits in a different manner.
With us supposedly having a lot of scholarships available for the 2015 class who are the current hot names that are on our radar that I should be looking at in the state playoffs?
Illinois has six scholarships available for the Class of 2015. Just from an in-state perspective, Charles Matthews of Chicago St. Rita, Jalen Brunson from Stevenson and D.J. Williams from Chicago Simeon are three players to keep an eye on. All three play tonight in Class 4A regional championship games, with Matthews and St. Rita taking on Chicago DuSable on St. Rita's home court, Williams and Simeon playing Chicago Marist at Chicago Mt. Carmel and Brunson and Stevenson playing Jereme Richmond's old school, Waukegan, at Mt. Prospect High School. Expect John Groce to possibly pop into one of those games, or an assistant be on the road tonight since Illinois is home tomorrow afternoon against Nebraska.
Do you think Finke is a good fit for the Illini program for years to come? And if so what player does he resemble?
John Groce and his coaching staff sure hope so. The 6-9 forward from Centennial likes to shoot the three and will come away with more than his fair share of rebounds. He needs to add strength and improve some other aspects of his game (shot selection and interior defense), but those will come with time. I think by the time he leaves Illinois, Finke will be a four-year contributor, maybe not cracking the starting lineup in his first year or two, but working his way into the playing rotation. The kid loves his basketball, wants to get better and knows he has much to prove to Illinois fans. Sorry for the shortened response. Had to take a phone call while I was in the middle of answering this.
Just to follow up on that, I'd say Finke reminds one of a Tyler Griffey right now. He's a big who is comfortable stepping outside and shooting the three, but has the size to make an impact down low. The better days of Finke's basketball career are ahead of him, plus he's still growing into his body.
What's your best guess for how many commits groce will sign for the '14 class?
Hey The Heights,
I'll go out and say three. I think two players on this year's team will transfer at the end of the season, opening up a few more scholarships for John Groce and his staff to work with. No idea on who might transfer as John Groce and the players haven't publicly addressed the topic, although I'm sure it will be talked about in the weeks and months after the season ends.
Going to wrap up this week's chat. Thanks for all the questions and interest this week. Sorry to those questions I didn't get answered. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to get back to you.
Have a good weekend everyone!