Richey | Illini have chance to impress

Richey | Illini have chance to impress

Beat writer Scott Richey weighs in on what this weekend could mean for Brad Underwood's program: The hyperbole flows easily when discussing Illinois bringing in a trio of top-50 recruits in one weekend. But real talk? This truly could be the biggest recruiting weekend for Illinois


It's certainly the biggest for Brad Underwood. The second-year Illinois coach anchored his true first class with a five-star prospect out of Chicago. Landing Ayo Dosunmu made a statement. Adding a little more under-the-radar talent like Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin rounded out a top 15 class (per Rivals) that was, of course, strengthened by sheer numbers.

Program building, though, is about stacking recruiting classes and stacking talent. That's what Underwood can do if this weekend hits even close to best case scenario. That would, of course, be getting a yes from E.J. Liddell, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe (who started off the staggered official visits Thursday evening).

But even a single yes can help. While much of the Big Ten has already made headway in its 2019 recruiting — Purdue just added a third in-state prospect Wednesday night — Illinois is waiting on its first commitment. Liddell, Shannon and Tshiebwe represent the direction Underwood wants this class to go. The Illini backcourt is set. That makes bigs and wings the priority.

At the top of that list of priorities is Liddell. The reigning News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year and Illinois Mr. Basketball is the clear-cut top prospect in the state and the runaway favorite to repeat as award winner for both he claimed as junior at Belleville West.

The Illini's history of landing the state's Mr. Basketball has been hit or miss and sometimes both in one. The last two to pick Illinois spent just a single year on campus, with Mark Smith transferring to Missouri and Jereme Richmond opting to turn pro, and the Illini have only secured three of the 19 this century.

Illinois will have to fight Missouri and Ohio State for Liddell. Florida State is a top suitor for Shannon. Tshiebwe still has visits to West Virginia (perceived favorite) and Kentucky (always a threat) looming. But the Illini have all three on campus this weekend.

Shoot your shot.