Klee's Corner: On Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and recruiting changes

Klee's Corner: On Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and recruiting changes

CHAMPAIGN — As his mother, Machanda Hill has seen other club programs approach Malcolm about bringing his promising talent to their team.

"There have been plenty," she said with a laugh.

But when Malcolm Hill joined Southwestern Illinois Jets, he joined Southwestern Illinois Jets for good.

That was almost nine years ago. Malcolm was a skinny third-grader when he attended a Jets tryout and made the team. The rest is AAU history.

And the Belleville East standout has been with the St. Louis-area program — and coach Patrick Smith — ever since. The long run will come to an end after July tournaments in Louisville, Philadelphia and Fort Wayne, Ind.

This type of loyalty sounds normal, right? Not always. With a talent like Hill, a 6-foot-5 swingman verbally committed to Illinois, other club teams often see an opportunity to poach.

"This speaks volumes about the kid. Since the end of eighth grade, he has been heavily recruited by other top-25 AAU teams from Louisville to Chicago," Smith said. "His choice to stay with the Jets has benefited the program and benefited him as well."

Malcolm previously announced his decision to remain committed to Illinois. That also wasn't a foregone conclusion after the coaching change that saw Bruce Weber fired and John Groce hired.

The new Illini staff moved quickly to confirm the commitment of the prospect that figures to be the cornerstone of its 2013 recruiting class.

His mom said the family left the decision up to Malcolm, and his family stood by it.

"We met with coach Groce after he had been there a short time. We met with him as a family. And then Malcolm met with him alone," Machanda Hill said. "He (Groce) showed him the type of plays he likes to run. He talked about the type of game he likes to play. And Malcolm decided to stay there despite the coaching change."

Mom said there were numerous qualities that attracted the family to Illinois.

"It's the state school. He has an opportunity to get a first-class education in many different areas. It's close (to home)," she said. "They have good basketball tradition and program. I know his focus is on basketball for the most part.

"But mine is on education. And you have a chance to get a world-class education two hours from home. Once your career is over, you always want to have that education."

There's been another constant since Malcolm joined Jets. He usually has family in the stands.

Machanda Hill rarely misses an AAU event, having traveled to Orlando to Las Vegas to Louisville to gyms in between to watch her son, who won't turn 17 until October of his senior year. Last week she was in attendance as Malcolm participated in the NBA Players Association Top 100 camp in Virginia.

"I played sports as a kid. And I just knew how I felt as a kid to see my mom there supporting you," Machanda said. "I know how that made me feel. I always wanted someone there supporting. And I think it's similar for him."

***

Almost all of the reviews on Maverick Morgan share two constants. His measurements (6-foot-10, 240-plus pounds) are legitimate and, like most young big men, the 17-year-old probably will need time to develop.

A rising senior out of Springboro, Ohio, Morgan committed to the Illini on Tuesday.

"The first thing about Maverick when you see him is that he's absolutely enormous," said Brian Snow, a national recruiting analyst with FOXSports/Scout.com. "From that aspect — in a class that lacks a lot of interiors players that play down low — he does have some value. He has

some ability to score the ball with either hand. He's going to play hard.

"That said, he struggles to rebound the ball. He's not a great athlete. He's an even- to below-the-rim type of player."

Numerous college coaches around the Midwest are lamenting the lack of quality big men in the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. That made Morgan more of a priority for the UI.

In terms of Big Ten competition, Minnesota probably had given Morgan the most recruiting attention other than Illinois. Wisconsin was in the mix and had scheduled a visit. Dayton — roughly 20 minutes from Morgan's home — also was hot after the center.

"He had a pretty good (high) school season. He hasn't quite replicated that in the spring," Snow said. "He'll give effort and play hard. The demand for big men in this class is great."

***

Early Friday morning, Kareem Richardson was feeling a bit groggy.

The Louisville assistant coach had been awake late into night — shooting off text messages and phone calls. An NCAA rule went into effect at midnight. The rule allowed coaches unlimited texts and calls to prospects who have finished their sophomore year.

"We got together as a staff," Richardson said Friday morning. "It was a late night. Finally we said, 'We've got to get some sleep.'"

And it's still a new staff for Richardson, the former Rantoul star. Rick Pitino hired Richardson onto his Louisville staff in April.

"Now that we're able to work the guys out in the summer, I've had the opportunity to witness his (Pitino's) work on the floor right off the bat," Richardson said. "It's easy to see why he's one of the greatest. You see it in his ability to relate to kids. (Workouts) are very upbeat, very intense, very fast-paced."

Last season was a good example of how Pitino's teams often do their best work late in the season. The Cardinals won the Big East tournament and followed with four wins in the NCAA tournament before losing to Kentucky in a national semifinal in New Orleans.

"For what he does, strength and conditioning is very, very vital in order for the players to be successful," Richardson said. "Practices have to be at game speed. When the game comes, guys aren't fatigued and the speed of a game doesn't affect them. I think (that pace) has a lot to do with their success late in the season."

The winning culture isn't new for Richardson, however. He goes from a program that advanced to the Sweet 16 (Xavier) to one that played in the Final Four (Louisville).

Richardson previously has served as an assistant at Drake, Evansville, Wright State and Indiana State. He was the 1992 and '93 News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year.

***

Another new NCAA rule allows coaches to work with players eight hours weekly when summer classes are in session.

Illinois last week began its first run of summer workouts under John Groce's staff.

The summer schedule looks something like this: on-court workouts three days a week (once as a team, twice in one-on-one individuals), weight-lifting with new strength coach Lon Record four days a week and open gym (at times established by the players).

"Our focus (now) is to teach our system and how we do things and how we practice — the expectation of competing over day and establishing our culture here," assistant Jamall Walker said. "We want to teach them little by little what it is that we expect from them on a daily basis."

The first workout — on Wednesday — focused on two areas that Groce figures to emphasize early: Defense and rebounding. He made those a priority after watching film of last season. He also saw that opponents shot 40 percent from three against Illinois. That was the second-worst field goal percentage defense in Big Ten conference games.

***

In its quest to add more depth to the roster, Illinois is expected to host another visitor next week.

Stephan Van Treese, a 6-foot-8 forward transferring from Louisville, is scheduled for a campus visit Monday. The junior from Indianapolis was granted his release from the Big East program earlier this month.

Due to a knee injury, Van Treese was limited to three games as a junior last season at Louisville. That could allow him to earn a medical redshirt and pursue an NCAA waiver that would make him eligible for the 2012-13 season at his next school. Van Treese told the Indianapolis Star earlier this month he would pursue a waiver.

When he was healthy as a sophomore, Van Treese started 12 games and averaged 4.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in Big East games.

***

Another former Big 10 head coach is now in the Big 12.

Former Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler joined Bill Self's Kansas staff as director of basketball operations last week. Sadler spent the previous six seasons in Lincoln and replaces Barry Hinson, who was named head coach at Southern Illinois.

***

If you're in Groce's basketball offices at Ubben Basketball Complex, there's a good chance you will run into Mike Thomas. The AD is a regular there.

One topic of conversation between Thomas and Groce is how the coach will complete his staff after the exit of Isaac Chew. Thomas said the ultimate hire would be Groce's call.

"For the most part I leave it up to them (the head coach)," Thomas said on Saturday Sportsline (WDWS 1400-AM). "Really where I become involved is with the financial piece, if additional resources would be needed. That's No. 1.

"No. 2 is from a compliance standpoint, making sure that they're not coming in with any baggage and they have a clean bill of health, so to speak. But I really believe that head coaches have a good sense of the profile of their staff. I think they put a staff together that complements one another, that work together. There's chemistry. They probably have

different strengths and weaknesses to make sure we're filling in all the gaps."

As for a timetable, Thomas and Groce said they expect to hire a third assistant by July 1.

"John and I talk quite a bit about his staff. He's really high on his staff. I'm high on his staff," Thomas said. "I think he's got a great group of guys, a great group of coaches. And I'm pretty sure he'll nail this one as well. I'm confident in that."

***

The Carrier Classic started a trend that hopefully will continue.

Three season-opening games will take place on aircraft carriers on Nov. 9: Marquette vs. Ohio State (off the coast of Charleston, S.C.), Syracuse vs. San Diego State (San Diego) and Florida vs. Georgetown (Jacksonville). The Gators-Hoyas game is the latest matchup.

North Carolina and Michigan State played last season in a surreal scene on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson. Roughly 8,000 servicemen and women attended the game.

***

Hill, the 2013 Illinois recruit, took another step in his development as a prospect with an appearance at the NBA Players Association Top 100 camp.

ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin, who helped run the camp alongside personnel director John Lucas, observed Hill throughout the event.

"His position here is very deep. But he's made the most out of his touches and opportunities," Rankin said Saturday from Virginia. "He's really doing a good job with his mid-range game. He has a terrific mid-range, one- (or) two-dribble pull-up (jumper). He's finishing on the break. He's knocking down his open threes when he has them."

Rankin said Hill grew more comfortable as the camp wore on and averaged around eight points and two rebounds.

"I think he's just scratching the surface. He looks young. I think he may even grow a little bit more," Rankin said. "I think his maturity is good for his age. But you can see he's just at the tip of the iceberg, if you will. He's only going to get better.

"He's going to be a good one. He's just going to have to continue to add strength and maintain his aggressiveness and he'll be an excellent, excellent player in John Groce's system, which I have a great feel for."

Rankin is a valuable source on the subject. The talent evaluator lives in Dayton and has a relationship with the new UI staff from its days at Ohio University. So he is familiar with the type of prospect that generates interest from the Illinois staff.

"One of the things he's done, when you talk about john Groce, is that he's done nothing but win," Rankin said. "Offensively you're going to space the floor. You're going to run a variety of ball screens and make defenses pick their poison. And they're going to have players in every position that can hurt you.

"Then they're going to flat-out get after it defensively with pressure man-to-man. They were one of the best defensive teams in the country at Ohio last year. And their defense will help them get out on the break. John will open up the floodgates and let them run. As long as they take care of the ball, John will let them go."

—Paul Klee

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