CHAMPAIGN — By his own estimate, Michael Finke has watched hundreds of Illinois basketball games at the Assembly Hall.
Now he’ll get a chance to play in them.
Finke, a junior forward from Centennial and the son of former Illinois men’s basketball and football player Jeff Finke, orally committed to Illinois on Wednesday afternoon.
He took an unofficial visit on campus to tour the academic facilities with Illinois head coach John Groce and his staff.
Before he left to make the short drive home, Finke told Groce of his plans while in the Illinois locker room.
“We talked about how I fit great in their system and how they wanted me,” Finke said. “I told them I wanted to play for them. I’ve heard from a lot of people around here that said, ‘Man, you have to go to Illinois. You’re from Champaign.’ It was great to hear, but my recruitment was wide open. I wasn’t going to choose Illinois just because I was the hometown kid.”
Groce impressed the Finke family on their first meeting, his detailed approach catching the eye of Michael and his father. Still, Jeff Finke said his son wanted to explore his options before making a decision.
Michael Finke is averaging 17.7 points and 6.6 rebounds for the 8-2 Chargers, who lead the Big 12.
Finke went to Twitter at 2:40 p.m. Wednesday to declare his college intentions.
“OUR STATE OUR TEAM! Proud to call myself part of the #ILLINI,” he tweeted.
“We thought about how I should do it, whether on TV or on the radio, but I didn’t want to wait,” Finke said an hour after his tweet went viral. “I just decided to get it out there.”
Finke, who had offers from Purdue, Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas State, along with interest from Boston College, Florida, Georgetown, Indiana, Missouri, Notre Dame and others, is the first commit in what is expected to be a small Class of 2014 based on the current scholarship situation Illinois has.
ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said the next priority for Illinois should be a scoring and attacking point guard, but it’s unclear if any scholarships will be available for that particular type of player. The NCAA-mandated scholarship limit is 13. If the current Illinois roster stays intact by the time the 2014-15 season arrives and the five Class of 2013 players are still on board, Finke’s scholarship would count as the 13th one.
Illinois has 12 players on scholarship this season, with Mike LaTulip and Kevin Berardini as walk-ons. The graduations of Sam McLaurin, D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey will drop the number to eight, but with high school seniors Austin Colbert, Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate signed, that number increases to 13 by the 2013-14 season. When Joseph Bertrand leaves after the 2013-14 season, the scholarships drop to 12, with Finke filling in the 13th slot.
Much can change, however, by 2014.
“You obviously have to address your needs,” Telep said. “This was one of them. It’s so hard in today’s game to say how many scholarships you have because there’s a couple guys at the end of the bench always throwing coaches looks.”
Telep said Finke — who seven months ago received his first scholarship offer from South Dakota State and saw his profile increase with offers from Wisconsin and Iowa after a superb summer playing AAU basketball for the Peoria Irish — will bring a versatile offensive game with him to Illinois.
“Any time you can get a guy with legitimate size and that kind of shooting ability, you’re in good shape,” Telep said. “Think about this for a moment. What is Wisconsin thinking trying to get a guy from Champaign? There’s got to be a valid reason why they’d even attempt to do that, and that reason is Michael Finke’s ability to shoot the basketball. Add in his size and his basketball IQ, that’s a premium in college basketball. There’s only a handful of guys like that every year.”
Finke said he checks in at 6 feet, 91/2 inches and 193 pounds. Ideally, Finke — who said he had 123 text and voicemail messages on his phone within the first hour after he committed — said he’d like to get up to 220 pounds before he arrives at Illinois.
“My goal is to try to get as close as I can to 5,000 calories a day,” Finke said. “I’d like to get as much weight as I can eating and also lifting three days a week, which I have been. In the end, it’ll take care of itself.”