The first official practice is Friday for Illinois basketball and first-year head coach John Groce.
The first game is exactly one month away (Colgate at home on Friday, Nov. 9).
The first time most of the country can see what Illinois basketball looks like under Groce is exactly 40 days away (Monday, Nov. 19), albeit at 11 p.m. Central Standard Time when the Illini play USC on ESPN2 in their first game at the Maui Invitational.
Getting to this point in the calendar year might prove more of a recruiting value for Groce and Illinois than anything he has done since he was hired in mid-March, according to Dave Telep, a senior national recruiting analyst for ESPN.
"The best thing that can happen to John Groce is they start playing games," Telep said. "Kids can start becoming more familiar with John Groce. That sounds very simple, but I really believe that's the essence of his whole pitch here. We live in a very TV driven society. You see Thad Matta. You see Tom Izzo. You see Mike Krzyzewski. You're going to start seeing more of John Groce, and that's a big part of this whole deal."
Telep likes what Groce has done with his first recruiting class, keeping Malcolm Hill from Belleville East (Ill.) High School on board after he committed to former head coach Bruce Weber, then adding Springboro (Ohio) High School big man Maverick Morgan in June before nabbing commitments from Chicago Simeon High School guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate within the last month.
"They've been able to get themselves on a number of lists and patch as many holes as they possibly could once taking over the job," Telep said. "I think in 2013, they were as aggressive and as realistic as they could be. I think that they've done a very good job in that respect."
Telep said in today's recruiting climate, where so much of it is based off established relationships, the Class of 2014 that Groce brings to Champaign-Urbana can be viewed more as his first real recruiting class.
Even with Groce and his staff unable to land Demetrius Jackson after the Marian Catholic (Ind.) High School senior point guard chose Notre Dame, Telep has come away impressed with Groce's first six months as a recruiter.
"With Demetrius Jackson, I'm not sure how much people realize how much difficulty that kid had in making a decision," Telep said. "That decision was made in a few days leading up to his announcement. They made it really difficult for that guy to say no to Illinois, and he had a tough time with it. They went after a guy who wasn't necessarily the 'it' guy at the time, and then his reputation evolved into being a five-star recruit. One, it tells you the coaches identified his talent early on, and two, it tells you they were able to forge a relationship with him that deep in that period of time. It was really good work."
The work continues, especially to land a high-caliber high school point guard who could transition immediately into Illinois' starting lineup as a freshman. Telep said juniors Joel Berry from Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, Fla., and JaQuan Lyle from Bosse High School in Evansville, Ind., are some of the top point guard prospects in the Class of 2014.
"That's a group that looks like it's becoming deeper as a unit than 2013 ever was, so you have better options," Telep said. "This is a premium position. It's a position that brand-new head coaches love to recruit because you get to put your arm around a guy and get to tell him that you're in it together. I imagine guys are going to hear very impassioned speeches from John Groce about this position."