Bragg recruitment: Groce has 'set the bar high'

Bragg recruitment: Groce has 'set the bar high'

It’s no secret the Illinois coaching staff has hit the ground running during this recruiting period looking for a point guard, and there are some solid leads out there. But let’s keep looking to fill out that roster.

A guy whose game is described as a mix of Kevin Garnett with a little bit of Carmelo Anthony, could you use one of those?

Stop thinking about it. The answer is yes.

Well, there’s a good chance you might see that player in Orange and Blue in the future. He’s Carlton Bragg, the 6-foot-9 forward from Cleveland basketball factory Villa Angela-St. Joseph. You’ve heard of him. He visited the UI campus last spring for an unofficial visit just as his profile was growing on the national scene. Now he’s a legitimate five-star prospect with offers from just about every big-time program in the country, and the Illini are squarely in the mix to land the top-10 prospect.

John Groce and assistant Dustin Ford were in Cleveland last month, paying Bragg an unofficial visit. They shared their vision for him both on and off the court with a PowerPoint presentation and got more comfortable with Bragg and his friends and family, including mentor Mike Graves.

“The trust factor with Coach Groce and the staff, you know they’re being real. They’re not trying to slip anything by you or pull the wool over your eyes,” Graves said. “They’re honest. We’re going to visit a few schools, but Coach Groce and his staff, they set the bar high when comparing other schools to what they’ve shown.”

Bragg hasn’t released a list of the schools he’s considering. That will come in September, Graves said, when they trim the list to about five or six and then set out to make official visits. As it stands, they have a box with a folder for 32 different schools, keeping track of everything from location to coaching style, coaching demeanor to campus lifestyle and academics.

Graves, who starred on VA-SJ’s state championship teams in the early 1990s and then later at John Carroll, is helping Bragg and his family through this process.
He met Bragg at a Cleveland rec center when Bragg was in eighth grade.

“He’s just a special kid,” said Graves, a former VA-SJ assistant coach.

The two developed a relationship and have remained close since.

“I talk to the coaches on a weekly basis, and I relay the calls from the coaches to Carlton because we didn’t want to give his number out and get overwhelmed at all the calls,” Graves said. “I’m just trying to help him understand all the schools better. He talks to most of the coaches once a week.”

Groce and Ford have been keeping tabs on Bragg since he was a freshman. While at Ohio, the Illini coaches were at VA-SJ — a school that has produced athletes such as Clark Kellogg, David Lighty, Mike Golic, London Fletcher, Elvis Grbac and Desmond Howard — to scout some other players when they noticed Bragg. Groce and Ford have been in touch with the Bragg camp ever since.

After leading the Vikings to a state title in 2013 as a sophomore, Bragg and VA-SJ finished second this season. He averaged about 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Already this offseason, he’s been to Dallas and Miami and participated in the adidas Nation showcase. He’ll head to Italy later this summer to participate in the adidas Euro camp.

“He’s done a great job of taking one thing at a time, not getting a big head. He’s blessed and grateful to have the opportunity to do the things he’s doing this summer,” Graves said. “He’s remained humble and hungry. He’s been really good with all the attention he’s gotten. He’s stayed focused on school and things he needs to improve on the court.”

On his AAU team, Ohio Basketball Club, Bragg plays primarily in the post. “Probably a little bit out of position,” Graves said.

With the high school team he posts some, but he also runs the floor and has extended his shooting range to beyond the three-point line. This offseason, he’s working on his ball handling and driving to the basket.

“In high school, he’s a 4 or a 5,” Graves said. “In college, most coaches see him as a 3-4.”

Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio State, Kansas and Arizona are in the mix for Bragg, with the Illini making quite an impression.

“Coach Groce is a good guy. We can trust him,” Graves said. “He’s set a good foundation for his vision for Carlton and what he can do to try to get Carlton to the next level.”

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