Daniels: 'Finke's best days ... ahead'

If they don’t get Alexander or Black, who do they go after next? Another big man? Best player they can?
Cliff Alexander of Chicago Curie and LeRon Black of White Station (Tenn.) are two high priorities for John Groce and Illinois —along with many other high-major Division I teams.

If Illinois can’t land one of those two (highly doubt they could get both of them, but you never know), it puts the Illini in an interesting situation about what direction they could go. Groce loves his ball handlers. Needs his ball handlers. Tracy Abrams will be a senior by the time the Class of 2014 arrives. Jaylon Tate will be a sophomore. There’s Mike LaTulip, too, who I think is a quality player. Maybe not ready for prime-time duty but could possibly fill the role of, say, what Nate Mast had at Illinois. And much would depend on the situation of Ahmad Starks. If the Oregon State transfer can get a waiver from the NCAA (still awaiting word on that), then Starks would play immediately in the 2013-14 season. If not, it would be for the 2014-15 season.

Getting Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill some time on the court this year will benefit them moving forward, but they’re more of a combo guard/small forward role, with Hill being a proven scorer and Nunn a dynamic athlete.

Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul will be eligible for the 2014-15 season, providing relief at shooting guard and power forward. Then there’s Nnanna Egwu, Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert. That’s the Illinois frontcourt, along with Paul, for the next two to three seasons at least. I’m more inclined to think Illinois will take a guard if it can’t land a player like Alexander or Black. To me, that’s more of a position of need than the frontcourt, especially if Michael Finke continues his progress, although I understand why some fans would want to add a post player.

As far as the scholarship numbers with the Class of 2014, much depends on what happens with Starks. If he plays this upcoming season, Illinois will have two open scholarships to use for 2014 even with Finke’s commitment. If he doesn’t, then there’s just one open scholarship. But like we saw at the end of the 2012-13 season, scholarship numbers are very, very fluid.

Do you think there is a tendency for fans (and perhaps some coaches) to discount local basketball recruits such as Michael Finke? Bruce Weber let Rayvonte Rice get away, and I think he realized it too late when Rice dominated Jereme Richmond in The News-Gazette Classic at the Assembly Hall.

Michael Finke is a Division I prospect. Can he thrive in the Big Ten? We’ll have to wait and see.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t anticipate Finke coming in during the 2014-15 season and becoming the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. If he does, I like my crow slightly seasoned.

Finke has the body frame which can allow him to add bulk (which he needs to, and it’s an area he understands he has to. Side note about Finke: That’s probably the most asked-about question regarding him. Not how his shooting is going or his post presence, but his weight. He’s handled it well, though.)

Finke’s best days of basketball are ahead of him, much like what Rayvonte Rice has shown. He had a superb high school career but didn’t blow up initially upon entering high school. That played a part in some of the high-major programs taking a pass on him coming out of Centennial. He’ll likely have to be Illinois’ leading scorer during the 2013-14 season for Illinois to get back to the NCAA tournament and possibly make a deep run.

In Illinois high school basketball, there’s a perception that if you’re not from Chicago or the surrounding suburbs, you’re not much of a player. Which isn’t true at all. The Chicago players and the suburban Chicago players get more notoriety because of a bigger media market.

You’re right about if Finke had committed to Wisconsin or Iowa or Purdue that people would be up in arms about him not choosing Illinois, especially because his dad, Jeff Finke, had a productive football career at Illinois and played basketball under Lou Henson.

And don’t worry. Finke isn’t going anywhere. He loves Illinois. It’s evident any time you talk to him or his family.

What recruiting advantages does John Groce have over his peers while recruiting players to come to Illinois?

The State Farm Center, for one. The renovation of the building formerly known as the Assembly Hall (really weird to type that) should upgrade the building and make it more modern. Improved and fresh-looking facilities are appealing to recruits these days, as materialistic as that seems. Whenever the renovation is complete should benefit Illinois in the recruiting spectrum.

The Ubben Basketball Complex is another advantage to Illinois, although most of the top programs in the country these days have state-of-the-art practice facilities, which wasn’t the case when Ubben was built in the late 1990s. Making sure that facility stays updated is another key.

There’s the tradition Illinois has, too, and the passionate fan base. Illinois men’s basketball is the sport in the winter (and even in the offseason) for most folks in East Central Illinois. And Illinois has a large alumni base spread throughout the country (and parts of the world) that likes to keep up with how Illinois is doing.
Then there’s Groce himself. He’s a dynamic young coach who was able to steer Illinois away from a poor finish this past season and within a play or two of the Sweet 16. Those are words Illinois fans haven’t heard since Dee and Deron left nearly a decade ago.

The list could go on and on, as well as disadvantages (lack of producing NBA players, inconsistent NCAA tournament success, etc.), but hope that is sufficient for now.

Who else could you see Beckman landing in the Class of 2014 with the six or so remaining scholarships he has?

I’d expect Illinois to try to land one or two more offensive linemen (never can have enough of those guys), another running back or another defensive back, a tight end, one or two more linebackers and one or two more defensive linemen. Maybe another wide receiver, too. Perhaps a kicker or punter, too, but you usually don’t use a scholarship on the kicking. Those are just rough estimates. I’d imagine Illinois’ Class of 2014 winds up at either 17 or 18.

Quarterback isn’t a position of concern with Wes Lunt coming on board. Running back is in decent position with Matt Domer coming on board. Wide receivers Mike Dudek and Malik Turner add depth to a position that has plenty of unproven players right now. Tight end will see Evan Wilson leave after this year, while Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse are upperclassmen.

On defense, linebackers have some quality depth built in there, along with the addition of Austin Roberts and Henry McGrew in the Class of 2014. The defensive line could use some more depth, while the secondary has a boatload of young players who are vying for more prominent roles.

All these players who are “blowing up” in the AAU games are doing so under less structured systems. Why should one believe they can or would do it when in a structured offense? Also, don’t you think an AAU game or two or three is an awfully small window to judge talent?
You are right. AAU basketball is way, way, way less structured than high school basketball. Then again, it seems high school basketball these days is becoming less structured, too.

College basketball is evolving, too. It’s not like complicated offensive sets are being run by the best teams in the country. A couple back picks or screenaways, a few ball reversals and that constitutes itself as a complex offense today.
Watching two or three AAU games is a small window, but college coaches aren’t just relying solely on how a player plays in AAU basketball. A lot of recruits who
have arrived at Illinois and will arrive at Illinois in the future have been evaluated
usually for one or two years. You should start seeing more of that now that John Groce and his staff are in place entering their second season. For instance, the Class of 2015 recruits have had a whole high school season for Groce and his staff to watch, now a summer AAU session and then their junior year. Once a player gets done with his junior season in high school is when the majority of commits start to happen.

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IlliniMike05 wrote on July 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I've heard people use this "Rice dominated Richmond" narrative before, and I wonder how many people who say it actually were at the game. I was, and it's patently false. First of all, Jereme didn't really guard Rayvonte. Jereme was by far the tallest dude on the team and was used as a rim protector defensively. And not only was he a rim protector, but he was one that had to do everything else- primary scorer, de facto lead ballhandler- so he had to stay out of foul trouble. 


Second, yes, Rayvonte scored 32 points and was awesome. But Jereme had something like 12 boards, several assists, blocks and steals in addition to his 21 points. Ray was on a great Centennial team that, even after Kinney left, had better ballhandling and two quality 6'8" guys. Jereme was everything for that team. Centennial was the far better team, but even with Ray scoring 32 points, it was still clear that Richmond was the better player. Ray's a very good college player and I suspect will be the leading scorer for a pair of good Illinois teams the next two years, but before he revealed himself to be a lunatic, Richmond was a lottery-caliber talent.


I hate saying all this because Ray's a)on the team now and b)not a lunatic, but I have to say it, because it's correct.