UPDATED: 10:30 p.m.
Now that he’s gotten his commitment to Illinois out of the way, D.J. Williams is going from hot-shot prospect to recruiter.
The 6-foot-7 forward from Simeon on Monday night became the first member of the 2015 class to give John Groce and his staff a commitment, so now he’s focusing his efforts on getting some others to join him.
“I told my brother Charles (Matthews) I’m going to be in on him. Diamond Stone, too,” Williams said. “Those two are the ones I’m going to start on.”
Williams, a four-star small forward and consensus top-50 recruit, according to Scout, Rivals and ESPN, is close with Matthews, a five-star guard from Chicago’s St. Rita. “We grew up together,” he said. Matthews, a consensus top-15 prospect, has offers from Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Stanford, among many others. Stone is a 6-10, five-star center from Milwaukee.
The strides Illinois has made on the court and in recruiting since Groce took over in March 2012 is being recognized by high-profile prospects, Williams said.
“The way he treats his players, the way they practice and play in games, the campus, everything down there is great,” Williams said. “That’s what guys talk about.”
Williams, who listed offers from Florida, Providence, SMU, DePaul and Purdue, has made a handful of unofficial visits to the UI campus in recent months. He became one of the rare Simeon players to make a commitment before his senior year.
“My first time on campus, I fell in love. Ever since then, I’ve been keeping in contact with the coaching staff, and right now I just feel like this is the best thing for me,” he said. “I felt like I was ready. It takes pressure off my back, too, and I can have a more fun season and try to win another state championship.”
Williams has a relationship with current UI freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, with whom he teamed to help Simeon to a state championship last season.
“They love it down there,” he said.
Williams also grew close with Groce and assistant coach Paris Parham, who made him a priority recruit for the Illini when he arrived on campus in the summer of 2012.
“It’s like family. I got along with Coach Groce my first time meeting him,” Williams said. “I just knew I could be there with the type of person he is outside of basketball and the type of person Coach Parham is outside of basketball. It’s like a family.”
UPDATED: 7:16 a.m.
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois’ 2014 recruiting class will sign their letters of intent in 10 days, but John Groce and Co. have already gone to work on the 2015 crop of recruits, landing a commitment from Simeon forward D.J. Williams on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-7 forward is regarded as a four-star prospect by Scout.com, Rivals.com and ESPN.com. Williams is rated 29th in his class by ESPN and 45th by Rivals.
“I felt like I was ready and it could take some pressure off my back so I could have a fun season and win another state championship,” he said Tuesday morning.
He is Illinois’ first commitment in the 2015 class. Illinois has commitments in the 2014 class from Centennial’s Michael Finke, Memphis (Tenn.) forward Leron Black and Louisville (Ky.) point guard Quentin Snider. The Illini are still in the mix for top-5 forward Cliff Alexander, who is expected to decide between DePaul, Illinois, Kansas and Memphis on Nov. 15.
Illinois is also recruiting 2015 guard Charles Matthews from St. Rita, a close friend of Williams.
“I told my brother Charles I’m going to be on him to come down there with me,” Williams said. “Him and Diamond Stone, those are going to be the first two I get on.”
Stone is a 6-10, five-star center from Milwaukee.
Williams made an unofficial visit to the Illinois campus last month, the same weekend Alexander made his official visit. He becomes the third former Simeon player to commit to Illinois since Groce took over in March of 2012. Current Illini freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate starred and won state championships at the South Side school.
“Of course they love it down there, it’s the best fit for them and I talked to them some about their experience,” Williams said.
During his recruitment, Williams has developed a close relationship with Groce and assistant Paris Parham, who has been the point man on the small forward.
“It’s like a family. I got along with Coach Groce my first time meeting him. I just felt like I could be here,” Williams said. “The type of person Coach Groce is outside of basketball and the type of person Coach Parham is outside of basketball felt like family to me.”