McLaurin gets word out: I'm an Illini
As the late hours of Wednesday turned into the wee hours of Thursday, and as he kicked it with his future Illinois teammates more and more on his visit to Champaign, Sam McLaurin came to a realization.
"I was just thinking the whole night, the entire prospects and everything," McLaurin said. "Everything I was looking for in a school, they provided for me. It was one of those things, why look elsewhere? It's right in front of you."
So before McLaurin departed for the night, he told his new friends who doubled as tour guides of his big decision. The Coastal Carolina forward would join them by transferring to Illinois, where he will be immediately eligible to play next season as a senior because he will pursue a graduate degree (sports management) that's not offered at his former school. He left the Illini players by saying, "Let's get ready to work."
Then McLaurin returned to his hotel and made the next logical move. He took to Twitter, and as most of the college basketball universe slept, he informed the masses of his decision by writing, "F—- it, I'm going to Illinois #illinination" in a line that sent the Internet into an uproar of mostly laughter Thursday.
"I've had people tell me that's how LeBron should have done it," said McLaurin, in reference to "The Decision" by LeBron James on national television that was highly criticized. "I think (the slogan's) going to be on T-shirts."
It should be noted McLaurin later apologized for his profane language, but you won't find him expressing remorse for his personality and mind-set.
"I love it. It gets everybody pumped," he said. "That's what I like. Hey, let's win some ballgames now. That's the next step."
The hope for coach John Groce and the staff is McLaurin will fill a need in the frontcourt by bringing the same sort of intensity to the floor as he does social media. If his time at Coastal Carolina is any indication, he sure will help. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound power forward from Havana, Fla., averaged 10.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and shot 65 percent from the field as a junior last season while starting all 31 games for the Chanticleers.
McLaurin figures to battle sophomores-to-be Nnanna Egwu and Mike Shaw and senior-to-be Tyler Griffey for quality playing time in what could be a revolving cast of characters down low who try to replace the 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds that were lost when sophomore center Meyers Leonard declared early for the NBA draft.
"Toughness and a will to win, and everything else comes with it," McLaurin said of what he brings to the Illini.
"I'm not trying to fill (Leonard's) role. I'm trying to help the other guys there, provide that veteran leadership that can take them a long way. Nnanna can be an NBA player. Mike Shaw can be an NBA player. Those guys, they're just young right now. I just want to provide that leadership, and we can do special things."
McLaurin, who received a medical redshirt as a freshman at Coastal Carolina after injuring his knee, had other options as he explored transfer opportunities. He had interest from Baylor, Georgia Tech, SMU, Virginia, Drake and N.C. State, but he viewed Illinois as the right place after flying in Tuesday and visiting the campus Wednesday.
"Champaign was a nice place, but it wasn't really about the place. It was about the people, about the coaches, the players. They had everything I wanted," McLaurin said.
"When I (knew I) had that relationship with the players and the coaches, it's just one of those things I couldn't turn down. They're really, really good guys. All of them, and they're committed."
McLaurin's addition is a low-risk proposition for Illinois because it doesn't change anything on the recruiting front. Because he has one year of eligibility remaining, his scholarship will open back up for a 2013 class in which the Illini have several priority targets. Even after adding McLaurin and Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice, Illinois has one scholarship available for this season. If that scholarship is rolled over, three still will be available in 2013, assuming recruits Malcolm Hill and Jalen James remain committed and no one on the current roster leaves early.
McLaurin said he will get to campus in early July. His younger brother and younger sister are in the Army, and he wants to spend time with them in June before they are deployed overseas later in the summer.
"Hey, man, I'm ready. I'm ready," McLaurin said.
Orris, Weber to reunite. Crete-Monee senior point guard Michael Orris, a former Illinois signee who was released from his letter of intent following the program's coaching transition, signed with Kansas State.
In Manhattan, Orris will be reunited with new Wildcats and former Illini coach Bruce Weber, who recruited Orris to Illinois and inked him in last November's signing period. But after Weber was fired, Orris met with Groce in mid-April, and both sides agreed it was in his best interest to look elsewhere.
Orris' commitment appears to be the end of a roller-coaster journey. He orally committed to Creighton last spring before opening up his recruitment and giving an oral pledge to Illinois in September.