By MATT DANIELS
Austin Colbert, Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate all signed letters of intent to play basketball at Illinois on Wednesday.
Now comes the important part for coach John Groce’s first recruiting class.
Finding them a nickname.
“We haven’t done that yet, but I know there’s going to be some things thrown out there,” Tate said with a laugh by telephone Wednesday evening. “I know we can’t take the Fab Five. That’s already established, but we’ll think of something.”
Tate joined Chicago Simeon teammate and fellow guard Kendrick Nunn at the school for a signing ceremony, along with family, friends and Simeon head coach Robert Smith.
Tate, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard, and Nunn, a 6-3, 175-pound combo guard, will become the first two Simeon players to play for Illinois at the same time since Kevin Turner and Bryant Notree in the mid-1990s.
“It was a real good event,” Tate said of Wednesday’s ceremony. “We each spoke about our journey of making our decision and talked about our journey at Simeon of playing for Coach Rob and playing for the Simeon foundation.”
A foundation that has won three straight Class 4A state championships in Illinois. While Nunn and Tate aren’t the primary players for Simeon — that title goes to uncommitted senior forward Jabari Parker — the level of competition the Wolverines face has helped prepare them for what lies ahead at Illinois.
“Playing for Simeon, you get a lot of college exposure,” said Tate, who transferred to Simeon for his junior year after two seasons at Chicago De La Salle. “Playing a lot of big-time games and tough games is only going to get us ready for college.”
Tate isn’t the five-star recruit by many recruiting services that Illinois target Demetrius Jackson was. Rivals.com lists Tate as a three-star prospect, but Tate said he doesn’t feel he has to become a different player just because he signed with Illinois.
“I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anybody but myself that I am the player that I’m capable of being,” Tate said. “I just want to go out there and do whatever it takes to win. If my team is good, I’m going to make myself look good.”
Tate said he spoke with Groce and his staff early Wednesday and also Tuesday. The message was straightforward.
“It was just basically congratulations and be ready to work,” Tate said. “Focus on this season and then get ready to come down to work next year.”
Tate said his relationship with Groce and the fact that Nunn will head south to Champaign-Urbana helped steer him to give Illinois an oral commitment in early October.
“More than just being a good coach, he’s a great person off the court,” Tate said. “He’s like a mentor, and he lets his guards play. He lets them run the show, and that’s my style of play.”
A style of play that may come to define the new era of Illinois basketball under Groce. And as for the nickname, the five signees have a few months to work on one.
“We got a great group of guys coming in,” Tate said. “We all have one goal, and that’s just to win. We want to make each other better and put Illinois back on top.”