If Santa Claus handed out recruiting gifts, here a few John Groce and Tim Beckman might have asked for.
The year 2013 has provided Illinois a number of gifts when it comes to the world of recruiting.
Like Leron Black, fresh off his Most Outstanding Player honors at the Iolani Classic down in Hawaii.
Or the Stone-Davis twins, Tyrin and Tyree, two junior college transfers who could bolster Illinois in key areas at wide receiver and the defensive secondary, respectively.
Kevin Hambly is already making inroads on Class of 2017 and Class of 2018 prospects.
Matt Bollant reeled in another top 25 recruiting class.
While there were moments that made people want to put coal in recruits’ stockings if they could (Cliff Alexander or Quentin Snider, anyone?), recruiting wasn’t all that bad for Illinois in 2013.
As 2014 nears, here are 10 items on the Christmas list Illinois coaches and supporters hope Santa Claus hears, courtesy recruiting blogger Matt Daniels.
1. No hat tricks
Especially when it involves a five-star in-state talent who has Illinois among his final list of schools. Alexander, the Chicago Curie power forward who could give Jahlil Okafor a run for numerous Player of the Year accolades by the time March arrives, gave Illinois hope for a fleeting moment. Until he put down the Illinois hat in favor of the one Bill Self likes to tout these days.
2. More local talent
Michael Finke of Centennial is a draw any time he plays this winter. The Chargers big man and future Illini has expanded his game dramatically since he arrived as a freshman at Centennial. He has added weight, improved his shooting and become the go-to player high-major Division I recruits must become. The local scene has provided plenty of well-regarded recruits in the recent past. Let’s hope the trend continues.
3. A multi-faceted point guard
Jaylon Tate has impressed with his passing and ball-handling skills. But his scoring (2.7 points per game) doesn’t draw wows from the crowd. Snider, the Louisville Ballard product, could possibly have fit the bill. But he bailed on Illinois at the last minute, opting for his hometown Cardinals. Jalen Brunson from Stevenson is the state’s premier point guard prospect in the Class of 2015. Illinois has made him a high priority. Rightfully so.
4. A true shooting guard
John Groce doesn’t have the prototypical catch-and-shoot two guard this season. The Illini are making do with bigs like Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu, along with slashers Joseph Bertrand and Rayvonte Rice, trying to fill the void left by D.J. Richardson. Illinois will get one next year in Aaron Cosby, but Aaron Jordan from Plainfield East is a bonafide sharp shooter in the Class of 2015 who has elevated other parts of his game this high school season.
5. Simeon pipeline continues
Three players from Rob Smith’s famed program have committed to Groce in the past 15 months. Kendrick Nunn saw valuable playing time against Missouri, Tate was a popular choice to take Tracy Abrams’ spot before Abrams’ performance in St. Louis and Class of 2015 wing D.J. Williams is already a solid verbal for Illinois. The development of Williams, who does a little bit of everything for the Wolverines right now, will be fun to watch.
6. More defensive help for football
Tim Beckman’s defense might have had a hard time containing the offense his youngest son, Alex, operated at Urbana High School this fall. The Illini have received help in the past 10 days with three junior college defensive linemen in Joe Fotu, Carroll Phillips and Jihad Ward committing. All should have a shot at competing for playing time next season. A real key is getting highly-coveted high school defensive linemen (Terry Beckner from East St. Louis is the state’s top prospect in the Class of 2015) to seriously consider the in-state school.
7. More early enrollees
Illinois had 10 players take part in spring practices last year after they signed in mid-December. The number was at 9 this December. Getting some skill players in the mix this year, particularly at the wide receiver position, could be a boost for those wanting to adapt and see early playing time in Bill Cubit’s offense. The trend is developing across the country for players to enroll early if they can to get a jumpstart on their college careers.
8. The Wes Lunt factor
The Oklahoma State transfer helped persuade three wide receivers to commit to Illinois in the Class of 2014 after news broke in mid-June of his transfer to Illinois. If he is able to win the starting job and put up prolific numbers, that could give the Illinois coaches another selling point to use when it comes to the Class of 2015 and Class of 2016.
9. Job stability
Rival Big Ten coaches can use this negative recruiting tactic against Illinois. Job instability. Questions abounded if defensive coordinator Tim Banks would return after the 2013 season. He is. But the heat is on Beckman to come through with a winning season after failing to do so his first two seasons. A bowl trip for Illinois in 2014 would help bolster recruiting efforts and put to bed lingering questions about how long Beckman will be at Illinois.
10. A five-star commit
In basketball. Or football. Doesn’t matter the sport. It seems like it has been forever since those words were uttered around these parts. Ones like Charles Matthews, Carlton Bragg, Diamond Stone or Elijah Thomas would elevate the basketball program. The pickings for five-star talent when it pertains to Illinois high school football are slim, so if Beckman winds up with one in his next recruiting class, chances are it comes from outside the state’s borders.