On Devin Langford's official visit to Illinois in the fall, he toured, among other things, the tailgate on an Illini football weekend.
Hard to say if Devin or his dad had a better time. James Langford munched a bowl of chili and chatted up Illini fans for what seemed like hours.
"His dad would have signed with us right away," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said Wednesday after receiving a letter of intent from Devin Langford.
The sales pitch to Dad was a piece of cake; his son sought some more time — and the Big Ten Network — to mull it over. More on that later.
Eventually, on Wednesday, the first day of the spring signing period, Illinois received a letter of intent from Devin Langford. The 6-foot-7 guard from Huntsville Lee is the first high school player to sign with Illinois from an Alabama high school.
Illinois recruited Langford for nearly two years. The first contact came from Langford's coach, Greg Brown, who phoned the Illinois coaches to tell them about Devin. Up to that point, the Illini never had heard of him — Alabama hasn't exactly been a recruiting hotbed for the Illini in the past.
"His coach called and said, 'I have a player I think you would be interested in. He likes Illinois for some reason. His dad likes Illinois and how you play,' " Weber said.
Langford is the fifth high school player in the Illini's 2011 recruiting class. He joined Chicago-area products Tracy Abrams (Mount Carmel), Nnanna Egwu (St. Ignatius), Mycheal Henry (Orr) and Michael Shaw (De La Salle), who signed in the fall.
It is the rare recruiting class that could form a conceivable starting five: Abrams at point, Henry at shooting guard, Langford at small forward, Shaw at power forward and Egwu at center. Throw in Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco, and there is room for a reserve.
Weber said the staff is not finished recruiting for the 2011 class. Jereme Richmond's departure opened a scholarship.
"We're just kind of looking and listening and seeing what's out there," he said.
Weber said Langford played all five positions at Huntsville Lee, which advanced to the Class 5A state title game the past two seasons. Langford said he expects to alternate between the three perimeter positions at Illinois. He averaged 17.4 points and seven assists and was an all-state selection as a senior.
"What's his position? I'm not sure yet. I think it can be a lot of different things," Weber said. "It's more who you can guard, that's your position. Offensively, he's just a player."
It is exceedingly rare for Illinois to venture into Alabama for a player.
Weber said he recruited the South as the coach at SIU — "You were actually closer to Huntsville than Chicago" — and made three or four trips to Huntsville in the past year. Assistant coach Jerrance Howard, the lead recruiter on each member of the 2011 recruiting class, also tripped to Alabama on several occasions.
"They (the Langfords) got the Big Ten Network to watch our games and feel comfortable," Weber said.
Langford said throughout the recruiting process that distance was not a factor. Still, the 2011-12 roster will feature only one other player from out of state, and St. Louis-area product Tyler Griffey can scoot home on the weekend. Making Langford feel at home will be a priority.
"I think a roommate for Devin is going to be important. Most of our other guys all know each other," Weber said.