March 28 UI football/recruiting chat

Friday, March 28, 2014 - 1:00pm

The Illinois football team, much like the rest of the student body, is on spring break this week. But beat writer Matt Daniels isn't. Ask him about how spring practices have gone for Tim Beckman's team, when the spring game is and what to expect out of the Illinois football team this fall in his weekly chat. Feel free to submit questions ahead of time.

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:02 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Good afternoon everyone. Not much happening on the Illinois football front right now because, well, the team and coaching staff are on spring break. Not together, mind you. But getting away from campus and practices was a priority for most of the Illini this week.

Plenty of questions already in the hopper, so won't keep you waiting. On a recruiting related note and one that deals with more attire, Illinois will unveil its new uniforms at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16 at Krannert Center on the UI campus. Will be interesting to see what the new uniforms will look like for Tim Beckman's program.

Mr. Ed — 01:03 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Any U of I buzz regarding Ed Morrow? Really like his all-around game.

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:07 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey Mr. Ed,

Hopefully this isn't Ed Morrow asking the question. Kidding.

Ed Morrow is a Class of 2015 forward from Chicago Simeon who had some superb games this past winter for the Wolverines.

With Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander taking much of the spotlight when it came to Chicago-area big men this past high school basketball season (and rightly so considering you'll most likely see them declaring for the NBA draft at this time next season), Morrow was a bit overshadowed at times this past season.

But he did have some impressive games for Simeon, needless to say.

At 6 feet, 7 and 210 pounds, he isn't the size you'll want out of a Big Ten center and is more likely suited to playing a wing spot or as an undersized power forward. Morrow does have Division I teams taking note of him, though, with Bradley, Iowa, Illinois-Chicago, Massachusetts and Nebraska all extending offers by this point.

Illinois is aware of Morrow considering he is teammates at Simeon with Illinois commit D.J. Williams. We'll see if the interest picks up this spring if Morrow's game continues to develop at the rate it did during the 2013-14 season.

Nick Bauer — 01:08 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey Matt. I know the big names that Illinois basketball is after but who are the 3 or 4 star guys that Illinois is after? I concentrate more on those guys then Brunson or Bragg, because I'm just not buying the fact that we can get those guys. So what I'm really asking is who are the realistic players that Groce and company are after?

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:13 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey Nick Bauer,

Jalen Brunson is the top priority for Illinois. He's a point guard who has all the elements John Groce would like to see out of his point guards. Brunson was a four-star recruit until recently, and his superb play last weekend at the Class 4A state tournament in Peoria did nothing to dampen the hype surrounding him.

Illinois has two four-star recruits already in the fold when it comes to the Class of 2015 in Aaron Jordan and D.J. Williams. Other four-star players Illinois is pursuing include center Josh Sharma from Northfield (Mass.) Mt. Hermon, point guard Hyron Edwards from East Chicago (Ind.) Central, shooting guard Jalen Coleman from La Porte (Ind.) La Lumiere, small forward Joseph Toye from La Lumiere and point guard Jimmy Whitt from Columbia (Mo.) Hickman, among others.

Some Chicago guards like Kain Harris from Chicago Morgan Park and Luwane Pipkins from Chicago Bogan are also tantalizing in-state prospects when it comes to the Class of 2015, along with point guard Glynn Watson from Westchester St. Joseph's,  guard Roosevelt Smart from Arlington Heights St. Viator and guard Prentiss Nixon from Bolingbrook, among others.

Anonymous User — 01:13 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey Matt,

Earlier this week you posted an article about the various recruits that Ilinois is currently pursuing.  Could you provide us with your best guess as to the odds or chances we have at landing each of those recruits?

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:19 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey anonymous,

Good question. If I could see into the future, that'd help me out with the answer.

Illinois will put on the full-court press when it comes to Jalen Brunson. He's the top in-state point guard in the Class of 2015 and has elevated himself nationally when it comes to the point guard crop in 2015 because of his impressive play all winter long for Stevenson.

It's a good sign for Illinois that Texas big man Elijah Thomas has Illinois in his final 10 list of schools, although it seems the in-state schools like Texas and SMU might have the inside track.

I wouldn't be surprised if Wisconsin center Diamond Stone stays home and picks either Marquette or Wisconsin. Whoever lands the Marquette job could affect his recruitment in a big way.

With Montaque Gill-Caesar, the wing from Huntington Prep in West Virginia, whether he decides to reclassify to the Class of 2014 could factor into his recruitment. I'd go out on a limb and say Kentucky lands him.

Jalen Coleman from La Lumiere in LaPorte, Ind., and Jawun Evans from Dallas Kimball are two guards who I wouldn't necessarily slam the door shut when it comes to Illinois. Groce has put himself in good position with both players.

Josh Sharma's stock has risen, but Illinois seems in solid position with the big man as well. That is always a benefit.

Anonymous User — 01:20 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

After listening to Tom Lemming twice now saying the Illinois coaches are one of the hardest working bunch of recruiters around, do you think it will finally pay off with the class of 2015? Will this begin to payoff especially in state? Alot of good players have gone out of state in the last five years. I could see this happening if the Illini win six games and go to a bowl can't you? Any feelings on your part of some near commitments?

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:25 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey anonymous,

Tom Lemming, the renowned recruiting guru for CBS Sports Network, is a big fan of the way Illinois is recruiting under Beckman. More so than most.

The payoff has to start with the Class of 2015. Beckman and his staff have had time during the past two years to develop key relationships with key high school coaches throughout the state, along with some promising players.

If Illinois keeps swinging and missing on so many in-state players, it does not bode well. Illinois will never lock up all the in-state talent (there's too many and too many other programs have established a foothold in the state in the past). But Illinois can't see the top 20 players in the class leave Illinois.

It has a good start to the Class of 2015, which will have around 22 or 23 scholarships to hand out, with the commitments from Champaign Centennial quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald and DeKalb running back Dre Brown. The glass half-full outlook with those two players is that while they didn't necessarily have other Big Ten offers besides Indiana for Brown, they were getting interest from other Big Ten schools, with the hope offers might trickle in this summer.

The glass half-empty outlook is they didn't have the list of Big Ten offers when they committed to Illinois, much like many players in the past few recruiting classes for Illinois.

If Illinois is able to get to the six-win plateau (I think they will), that should provide a boost to recruiting. Recruits want to see programs win. All the talk out there among current high school players who are interested in Illinois is that Illinois is a program on the rise. That's all fine and dandy, but until you start winning some games, you're not going to win some of the key recruiting battles among the state's top players. And those players won't seriously consider Illinois until the wins start coming through on a more consistent basis.

Anonymous Userillini53 — 01:26 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

As we move to year 3 of j.g. i ponder when we will see the offense that landed coach here? I am sure that a.d. Thomas saw something different in his hire. I know you need the talent, but is'nt it hard to sell " this system" to young recruits?  The coaches at MINNY, IOWA, have done well with their systems never changing philosophy. I must admit a lot of times this year we have resembled the previous coach's style, walk the ball up the floor, make careless passes, and shoot at the end of the shot clock. Is it just me?    When will be our time?

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:30 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey anonymous userillini53,

The shooting woes Illinois had this year really limited what they could do offensively. Teams could clog the lane in an effort to stop Rayvonte Rice or Tracy Abrams from getting easy looks at the basket because the three-point shooting was not pretty.

Last time I checked Minnesota was in the NIT semifinals and Iowa was bounced in a First Four game, so those aren't teams exactly beating down the door for a Final Four berth. Respectable programs, yes, but not anywhere near an elite level.

Having Ahmad Starks on this year's Illinois team would have paid dividends. Having him eligible next season, along with transfers in Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul, will help the depth Illinois has.

Plus, Illinois was playing quite a few freshmen this past season, and it took time for them to develop. They played much better in the last month of the season than they did early on, which helped Illinois go from a team with almost no postseason aspirations to an NIT berth.

John M. of DC — 01:30 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Matt, Always enjoy the chats. The 2014 FB schedule seems to be set up on the basis of groups of 4. There are 4 games the Illini should win because they will have superior personnel or enough strong areas of the game to come out ahead. There are 4 games they can win because they are somewhat evenly matched and have a fair shot depending on strength of play and coaching. There are 4 games they cannot win because they face superior teams. That puts the win potential at anywhere from 4 to 8. 6 and up with a bowl game and Beckman is golden but if it's 4 or 5 wins does Thomas fire Beckman after the season? I would think 4 wins and he is immediately gone, 5 wins he gets another year. But if Thomas does fire him, who does he get to replace him?

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:36 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey John M. of DC,

Perhaps you've listened to a few too many Tim Beckman press conferences. The Illinois coach likes to often say how he divides the season up into quarters for his team.

Talking to Mike Thomas shortly after the football season ended, he didn't put a definitive number on how many wins he'd like to see Illinois get during the 2014 season. Anything less than six, however, and a bowl trip will leave an unsatisfied fan base even more unsatisfied.

To ensure Beckman sees the fourth year of his contract, a six-win season is most likely a must. The schedule is favorable for Illinois to accomplish just that this season.

It's realistic to expect Illinois to start Big Ten play at 3-1 with wins against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky (be a little wary of the Hilltoppers, though) and Texas State and a road loss against Washington. The home schedule when it relates to Big Ten works out well for Illinois. The Oct. 4 game against Purdue is looked upon as a win for Illinois, with games against Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State in Champaign possibly toss-ups at this point.

The road schedule isn't so friendly. Trips to Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State all look like losses, but the season finale at Northwestern shouldn't instill fear and have Illinois fans breaking out in cold sweats about the possibility of a loss.

If Beckman is let go after his third season, don't expect a lengthy list of top-flight candidates to emerge. At least at this point. Yes, Illinois is a favorable job because it is in the Big Ten and Illinois has won (albeit in short, fleeting moments) in the recent past. But to expect Illinois to land a hot name on the coaching carousel if Beckman is fired would be unrealistic. You'd likely see either a young coordinator at a BCS program or a veteran coach who has failed elsewhere (i.e. Ron Zook) as the likely names to emerge.

Better Teamwork > 5 Stars — 01:37 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Beginning to think all this emphasis on 5-star recruits is overblown and pointless. Not many will come to Illinois and those who do won't stay long. 

Why can't we be like Dayton and make the Elite Eight with 3 star recruits who play together as a team? 

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:39 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey better teamwork,

Illinois doesn't have the track record of hauling in five-star recruits, but landing one would change the future of the program. It would lend itself to have other noteworthy recruits sit up and pay more attention to Illinois.

Don't have an answer for you about how Dayton made it to the Elite Eight. Most of America didn't have the Flyers winning their first game of the tournament against Ohio State, so what Dayton is accomplishing is quite surprising. Here's a hypothetical question, though. If all Illinois had was three-star recruits, would Illinois even be able to post a winning record in the Big Ten and land a spot in the NCAA tournament? Most likely not.

JK-ILLINI — 01:40 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Besides Lunt, which new starter this year will have the biggest impact, offense and defense?

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:44 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey JK-Illini,

On offense, Geronimo Allison has the capabilities to emerge in the passing game. The wide receiver from Iowa Western Community College has the size at 6 feet, 3 inches to go up and over defensive backs, although he is a bit slight at only 185 pounds.

He has dealt with a nagging arm injury throughout most of spring practice, but is a threat when it comes to deep balls or fade routes near the end zone. He went up and outjumped an Illinois defensive back for an impressive touchdown catch at the end of a practice session last week that no one on last year's Illinois roster could have pulled off.

As far as defense, haven't seen Jihad Ward yet since he didn't enroll early, but the big defensive tackle is generating a lot of buzz about what he could possibly do. Will be interesting to see if Illinois decides to line him up at a defensive end spot to take advantage of his athleticism and size.

As to the rest of defense, T.J. Neal could fill in admirably in replacing Jonathan Brown at a linebacker spot. The coaches like his instincts and physicality, two traits you always want to see out of linebackers. Other than that, there aren't too many new starters expected on defense for Illinois outside of Kenny Nelson taking the spot Tim Kynard had last year at defensive end.

Hope that helps.

Jalen for 3 — 01:45 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey Matt,

What are the biggest needs in the 2015 football class and are there any immediate impact players at those positions that Illinois has a realistic shot with?

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:49 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey Jalen for 3,

You always want to try and bring in a defensive tackle who can disrupt games. Those players are becoming more and more like prized possessions when landed just because of the havoc they can wreck on an opposing offense.

Defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. from East St. Louis is the top in-state prospect in the Class of 2015, and Illinois had him up for a junior day event in early February, but will have to fend off the big boys in order to land him. And Beckner could wind up playing a defensive end in college, too.

Illinois took care of the wide receiver group pretty well with the Class of 2014, but in-state talents like Miles Boykin from New Lenox Providence Catholic, Flynn Nagel from Lemont, Cameron Green from Stevenson and Leon Thornton from Montini are some options to consider.

Getting a premier offensive tackle could provide a boost, too, especially since four of the five expected starters on the offensive line in the 2014 season are all upperclassmen. Gabe Megginson from Jacksonville and Quinn Oseland from Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin are the two premier ones in Illinois in the Class of 2015, and Illinois is in good position with both at the moment.

Andre Willitsy — 01:49 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Matt,


In your estimation, who will be the next commit for Beckman's 2015 football class?  Will we get any commits by the time spring practice is over?


Also, does Matt Bollant realistically have a chance at the top player, McCoy, from St. Thomas More?  I realize we are the local school, it's good to be near home, etc., but what are our REAL chances?


Thanks,


Dre

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:54 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey Andre Willitsy,

Whenever you figure out predicting where the next recruit will go before they announce their decision, let me know.

If I had to, I'd say a possible wide receiver might be the next recruit Illinois lands. Recruits these days are well-versed when it comes to remaining coy or open about their decisions. Rightly so. It's a huge decision and one to not take lightly.

I wouldn't be surprised if Illinois gets a commit by the time spring practice ends on April 12, but the key moments when the commits start to pile up are in June and July.

From what I've been told, Tori McCoy from St. Thomas More High School here in Champaign and one of the premier girls' basketball recruits in the Class of 2016, plans to narrow her list of schools down to 25 by this fall to help her in the process.

Illinois seems to be in a solid position with McCoy since Bollant is a regular at her games and has built up a relationship with the family. But with all the major programs in women's college basketball coming at her, some more wins next season for an Illinois team that sputtered to a 9-21 record this past season could certainly help out.

FightingIlliniFTW — 01:55 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

I love my Illini basketball games and I love watching them play! I love reading everything you write about Matt! Like I said, I bleed Orange and Blue but I am also a realist and sometimes a pessimistic person. I feel that the Illinois basketball fans are a little delusional when it comes to where they think we rank compared to the blue blood programs. Don't get me wrong, Illinois fans are awesome but I think we hold our team a lot higher in terms of comparison to the top notch programs who have won National Titles. I think we need to be patient with the basketball team if we want to be a better program in the long haul. Also, I am little skeptical of the guys who are transferring into the program. The Big 3 who are coming in (Cosby, Paul, and Starks) seem like good individual players but none have had highly successful teams in college (I guess I can exclude Paul since he has been in college only one year). I am just a little worried because I feel that the fan base has put expectations a little too high for this team. What are your thoughts? Thanks Matt! GO ILLINI!

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 01:58 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Hey FightingIlliniFTW,

Getting to Final Fours in 1989 and 2005 certainly elevated what the Illinois men's basketball program could be like.

Expectations are always high, though, at Big Ten schools. It comes with the territory. Should fans want a Final Four every year for Illinois? Sure. That's their right.

Should fans expect a Final Four every year for Illinois? No. Especially since the program can point to two appearances in the national semifinals in the last 25 years. Making sure the program doesn't take a step back and remains a consistent threat to reach the NCAA tournament is a realistic expectation for Illinois basketball right now. Let's say, though, that in the next five years Illinois makes the tournament and wins a few games each March. Then it's realistic for expectations to ratchet up even more.

Patience isn't a word sports fans like to hear, and it's understandable. You want to win, and you want to win now. But so does every other school out there as well.

Matt Daniels (moderator) — 02:00 PM on Fri, 03/28/2014

Really great chat today. Thanks goes to all you who peppered me with questions. Going to wrap it up for this week.

I'll be back at the same time next Friday before making the drive to Springfield for Illinois football practice.

Anything else, feel free to email me at mdaniels@news-gazette.com or hit me up on Twitter @mdaniels_NG.

Have a great weekend!