Tate: Top Chicago prospects avoiding UI

Tate: Top Chicago prospects avoiding UI

   And then there was one.

   Simeon''s 6-foot-7 Bobby Simmons, who won''t sign until spring, will receive the full salvo of Illini basketball recruiting efforts this winter as he becomes the only available member of the Chicago Public League''s five top-rated juniors from a year ago.

   Julian''s 6-8 Lance Williams chose DePaul. Farragut''s 6-8 Michael Wright will sign with Arizona next month. Neither is academically qualified yet.

   Husky Rod Thompson, who transferred from Carver to Galesburg, announced for Iowa. Whitney Young''s 6-5 Quentin Richardson, declining even to visit the UI campus, is said to be down to DePaul, Kansas and Kentucky.

   What''s happening? Is there basis for Internet rumors of an Illini boycott by Public Leaguers? Is there lingering unhappiness in the inner city over the UI''s decision not to hire Jimmy Collins? Why are Public League coaches crawling in bed with DePaul after years of snubbing the Blue Demons?

   Each case is different, coaches say.

   "Lance Williams is 1 of 4 children, and his mother wanted him to stay close," said Julian''s Talmadge Millan, who attended the UI and coached Illini Robert Bennett.

   "The Collins decision upset people up here, but not to the point of influencing athletes not to attend Illinois. Williams made a personal decision."

   Perhaps, but the rumor mill churns out a different story. With Millan retiring after this season, Julian aide Loren Jackson became Williams'' confidant and worked close with Pat Kennedy''s Chicago-raised assistant, Tracy Dildy. Dildy is "one of the family" in the Public League. And he and fellow assistant Larry Harrison are closely linked with summer AAU coach Larry Butler, who built strong ties with Williams and Richardson. The UI has had no luck dealing with Butler''s summer players.

   "Dildy is a huge factor," claims King coach Sonny Cox. "I talk to Tracy three or four times a week, just as I talk to Jimmy Collins two or three times. I know what the kids up here are talking about, and I know Illinois is not going to outrecruit those two in Chicago. Dildy and Collins talk the kids'' language, and they''re real visible.

   "I''ve got a couple of seniors, Anthony Johnson (6-6) and Michael Stewart (6-8), and I don''t even know who is in charge of Illinois recruiting here. I''ve never met Robert McCullum, and I haven''t seen Rob Judson since the Illinois summer camp at Moody Bible.

   "A lot of us were disenchanted with the way DePaul was going for a long time, but I never say never. They''ve made some wise moves lately."

Butler''s influence disputed

   George Stanton, Whitney Young coach, says "kids here may not feel a close relationship with the UI coaches" and states further that "people should give the parents more credit in the Richardson case." Stanton believes Butler "has no power over these players," a statement disputed by others.

   At the same time, scuttlebutt has it that Richardson doesn''t want to attend the same school as Fenwick''s Corey Maggette (pinpointed UI prospect).

   Cox disagrees with Stanton on Butler''s influence.

   "The kids listen to him," Cox said. "That''s one of my personal gripes. These summer coaches have no rules, no regard for high school rules. They take kids around the country without considering their academic needs or their summer responsibilities. At King, summer school comes first. These kids may need summer school to graduate or to complete a core course.

   "Two days before the Morris Shootout, I discovered that half my players were in California. I made a call and let them know that if they weren''t here by a certain time on Saturday, I would assume they were going to a different school in September. They got back."

Prep coaches not organized

   "Resentment? Maybe some," William Nelson of Farragut said.

   "But there''s nothing organized against the University of Illinois. We have a lot of coaches who don''t even like each other. These are individual decisions. At the same time, I''d say that while Illinois is the state school, a lot of us don''t feel that close.

   "Michael Wright is 6-8 and a lefty, and he relates to Jerry Gee. Michael didn''t want to go anywhere that doesn''t have a true center. If Illinois had one, he might have put them near the top. The same is true of DePaul. I have nothing against either program.

   "Michael liked Arizona from the start. They told him that if he''d commit, they wouldn''t sign any other power forward. He loves Arizona."

   Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette.