Alexander's hat trick caps rough day

Alexander's hat trick caps rough day

CHICAGO — For a split second, it appeared as though the nightmare Illini fans woke up to Friday morning when committed point guard Quentin Snider backed out and signed with Louisville was going to have a happy ending.

Seated between his mom and dad in front of hundreds at the Curie High auditorium — cheerleaders, the band, dance team and teammates among them — with the ESPN cameras trained on him, Cliff Alexander picked up the orange Illinois hat.

But quicker than Illinois fans could recite the “I” in the I-L-L, I-N-I chant, the 6-foot-9 consensus Top 5 forward dropped the Illini cap, picked up the one beside it and placed it on his head while saying “the University of Kansas.”

The auditorium erupted in cheers, and minutes after the ESPN cameras were being taken down, Alexander stood on the stage, swarmed by reporters inquiring about his decision. Mom stood near him chanting “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk,” and a few feet away, Curie coach Mike Oliver stood watching, excited for his guy but somewhat disappointed at the same time.

“I was just as shocked as you guys were,” Oliver said. “It’s disappointing that we continue to have the best players in the state go out of the state. It’s a sad moment for the state of Illinois, but it’s the kid’s decision. We’ve got to live with it and wish him the best.”

Oliver and other prominent Chicago Public League coaches, including Simeon’s Robert Smith, have been publicly advocating for the top players from the city and the state to play for one of the state schools, namely Illinois. Minutes before Alexander’s decision, the top-rated player in the country, Jahlil Okafor of Chicago Whitney Young, announced for Duke.

The trend in recent years has seen Jabari Parker (Duke), Anthony Davis (Kentucky) and Derrick Rose (Memphis) all leave the state after prolific prep careers in Chicago.

Oliver said Illinois did absolutely everything it could do in its pursuit of Alexander. He commended coach John Groce and assistant coach Paris Parham for their efforts in Alexander’s recruitment.

“I was impressed with Paris. He’s a Chicago guy, I’m a Chicago guy, a Public League guy, and he did a great job,” Oliver said.

Alexander told reporters he made the decision Thursday. Oliver said that as late as 2 p.m. Friday, about 75 minutes before Alexander was scheduled to announce, the forward was still conflicted.

“I just told him to go with his gut, and he said, ‘Coach, I want to go to Kansas. That’s what’s best for me and my family,’ ” Oliver said.

According to Alexander, Illinois finished second to Kansas in the sweepstakes. The deciding factor, Alexander said, was Kansas coach Bill Self, the one-time Illini boss.

“Coach Self is a great guy. He develops his players and gets them to the (NBA),” Alexander said. “He can get me to where I want to be. He’s a great guy; I like how he coaches. I like how he gets the ball to the bigs.”

Where he wants to be is in the NBA — and soon.

“One and done, then come back to get my degree,” Alexander said of his college stay.

Another former Illini, Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard, was instrumental in Alexander landing with the Jayhawks. Howard recruited Alexander during his time on Bruce Weber’s staff from 2007 to ’12 and had a hand in Alexander receiving a scholarship offer from Illinois.

“He played a big role. Ever since he stepped foot on campus at Kansas, we’ve been talking, built up a great relationship,” Alexander said.

An Illinois recruiting class that was rated among the Top 15 in the country with Snider, Centennial’s Michael Finke and Memphis (Tenn.) forward Leron Black has taken a nosedive into the 40s.

Finke signed his letter of intent Wednesday, and Black signed and delivered his Friday. That means Illinois is at the maximum 13 scholarships for next season. It would have been one over the threshold with Snider and two over had Alexander committed and signed.

Illinois already has a commitment in the 2015 class in Simeon wing D.J. Williams. With Williams in the fold, the Illini will have three scholarships remaining for the 2015 class.

Groce has yet to officially announce the 2014 class of Finke and Black. He spoke early Friday to reporters about Sunday’s game against Bradley. He couldn’t be reached late Friday.

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ERE wrote on November 16, 2013 at 6:11 am
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As a Groce-ism, we got "punched in the face". Ouch.

As far as Quentin Snider goes, wish him the best but honestly think Tate likely to become a better point-a three star who blossoms aka Burke/Oladipo. And I continue to anticipate big things from Nunn-give the man some time!

Are we really EVER going to be able to compete for these Duke/KU/KY/Lville one and done kids? Probably not. Maybe we just need to move on. What do those kids have to do with COLLEGE, anyway? 

Lets stop whining, brush off the dirt, and get back at it-GO ILLINI! Love this year's team....

DaisyJ wrote on November 16, 2013 at 10:11 am

Really, you know, you just cannot take the stripes off the tiger. This character star in his head Cliff is better of where he can go get his tatoo's in another town, get to the NBA and start making kids with mommy's, spending money on his gold watches. How crass is it to rub it in...like I just did,,,,,think about it.

townsend1306 wrote on November 16, 2013 at 1:11 pm

You already have some of these so called 1 & done missing a year of earning power because they have to go to school for your pleasure,  so if  someone want to spend the money they worked and earned on a gold anything or have as many kids as they feel they want then who are you Daisy J to have anything to say  what do you spend your money on, twitter ???

DaisyJ wrote on November 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm

townsend,,you are who you are...wake up, Cliff will not be working in the library between classes nor will he be tutoring for part time money. He will use his scholarship to satisfy the NCAA and Pro's and then on to big money and all the spoils that set an example of what not to be as a role model. The whole system of these signing on tv's as if they are a trophy for a school is not all his problem. Reminds me of a pro football player that scored a TD, some act like they have done it before, others just want to stand there and say "look at me, look at me".

DaisyJ wrote on November 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm

One more thing, I heard Groce address the state of basketball and the loss of the two kinds and the gaining of the two kids. He let you all know, that he is damn proud of being an lllini, being their coach, and will not let anyone ever forget it. Which is why guys like Cliff need know that character is everything in the end.

jdstieg wrote on November 16, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Well said DaisyJ.