CHAMPAIGN — Earlier this spring, Maverick Morgan was named to the junior court for his high school prom in Springboro, Ohio.
He had a date, too, and she bought a dress.
But big Maverick also had an AAU tournament that day. And he didn't want to miss it.
He chose basketball over prom. If that's not an indication the 6-foot-10, 247-pound center is a hoops junkie, what is?
"During the school year he had a horrific schedule," said Jeff Morgan, his father. "School, weights, open gym. And then he had AAU (games) on top of that."
Here's hoping his girlfriend is an understanding one.
Maverick Morgan — has there been a better name recently associated with Illinois basketball? — gave an oral commitment to John Groce and the Illini staff during a campus visit Tuesday and Wednesday. The 17-year-old is a Class of 2013 prospect who can sign of national letter of intent in November.
Groce's staff is familiar with Morgan from its time at Ohio University. Morgan said he chose the Illini over a final list of Dayton, Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin and Xavier. He canceled visits to Wisconsin and Minnesota that were scheduled for later this week.
"I've known this staff for over a year now, from when they were back at (Ohio)," Morgan said. "I really love these guys. I think it's going to be great to play for them."
Morgan said he was sold on the Illini based on his relationship with the coaching staff and the opportunity to play in the Big Ten. His father said Maverick didn't have a favorite team growing up — don't worry, not even Ohio State — but is a Big Ten fan in general.
And Morgan's commitment to the game (see: skipping prom) was a selling point for the Illini staff. So often young big men play basketball because, well, they're big, and they're supposed to play basketball, right? The hype around them builds early, and many of them never reach the expectations because they don't love the game.
But his family said Maverick is committed to improving.
"He does work hard at it. Basketball is a huge part of his life," his father said. "I can miss two or three AAU games and he's doing something better than he did before."
Morgan's academics also were a positive. He carries a 3.5 GPA and recently scored a 24 on the ACT, according to his family.
There figures to be a learning curve for Morgan, too. The programs recruiting him expected he would need time to develop, but they liked that he has the frame to become a Big Ten-caliber center. And few big men have a significant impact in their first season. Only two freshman big men ranked among the Big Ten's top 25 scorers in conference games last season (Indiana's Cody Zeller, Iowa's Aaron White).
Morgan joins Belleville East wing Malcolm Hill as the two players to commit to the Illini from the Class of 2013.
Illinois also was expected to welcome another visitor Wednesday.
Nic Moore, the point guard transferring from Illinois State, was scheduled to begin an official visit to the Illinois campus. The 5-9 lead guard last week visited SMU - a strong candidate in his recruitment - and is considering Purdue and Notre Dame, as well.
Joining the club
Ohio prep star Maverick Morgan, who orally committed to Illinois, checks in at No. 148 on Rivals list of its top 150 players in the Class of 2013 (No. 1 is, of course, Jabari Parker). Others on the list headed to Big Ten programs:
33. Marc Loving Ohio State
50. Kendall Stephens Purdue
51. Bryson Scott Purdue
52. Malcolm Hill Illinois
63. Zak Irvin Michigan
70. Bronson Koenig Wisconsin
72. Derrick Walton Michigan
88. Stanford Robinson Indiana
107. Devin Davis Indiana
110. Collin Hartman Indiana
116. Mark Donnal Michigan
134. Luke Fischer Indiana
139. Geno Thorpe Penn State