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CHICAGO – Raising an Illinois ballcap onto his head, Mike Shaw made it official that he had committed to Illinois.
"They were always there for me," he said later.
After several days of educated speculation, his orange-and-blue announcement didn't come as a surprise. But the latest addition to Bruce Weber's recruiting surge – Shaw, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound senior forward at Chicago De La Salle – took a heckuva lot of work to land.
Weber got this commitment the old-fashioned way: He earned it. This was an old-school recruiting effort. The Illinois coach was there in the beginning (Shaw's first varsity game) and in the end (Weber tripped to De La Salle as recently as Wednesday to make sure it was locked up).
"He was the only coach there (at Shaw's first game)," De La Salle coach Tom White said. "It wasn't an assistant coach or a friend of the program. It was Coach Weber sitting there."
"They've been recruiting me since the eighth grade," Shaw added.
Illinois secured Shaw also because assistant Jerrance Howard built a relationship with the 17-year-old shortly after Howard was hired in 2007.
"I can trust him," Shaw said of Howard.
His official visit to Illinois a week ago made an impression. At one point coaches took Shaw – and the current Illini – into a darkened Assembly Hall, where they watched UI highlights on the video board.
The current players also held up their end of the recruiting deal. Shaw said he received persuasive texts and calls from Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, D.J. Richardson, Jereme Richmond, Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard.
White said Shaw's commitment hasn't stopped other programs from continuing to recruit Shaw. But Shaw said he's firm with his decision and plans to sign with Illinois during the early signing period that runs Nov. 10-17.
"I can't see any change. I feel comfortable," he said. "I feel comfortable with the decision I made. It's been a long process. It hasn't been long for no reason. It's been a long process so I can make the right decision. I'm a loyal dude."
Shaw joins guards Tracy Abrams (Chicago Mount Carmel) and Mycheal Henry (Chicago Orr) and center Nnanna Egwu (St. Ignatius) as 2011 recruits committed to Illinois.
Whether he turns into a productive Big Ten player remains to be seen. But Illinois needed a rebounding forward and Shaw was its No. 1 target at the position, with no clear-cut backup plan if he went elsewhere.
Shaw also had ballcaps symbolizing DePaul, Marquette and West Virginia – his other finalists – on the podium at his announcement. He declined to name a runner-up.
"It was really, really hard," he said.
The same was true on the Illini's end.