How many blue chips will Illinois win?
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The real recruiting fun begins later this month when Jalen Brunson makes an official visit to Illinois. It continues with Jimmy Whitt, followed by Elijah Thomas and Shake Milton. Jawun Evans is expected, too, at some point. The four-star point guard from Dallas trimmed his list of schools to four Wednesday, and Illinois is one of them. Staff writer Matt Daniels takes a glance at the five highly coveted recruits.
Point guard, Stevenson
Illinois visit: Aug. 29-31
Others vying for his services: Connecticut, Kansas, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Temple and Villanova
Outlook: Brunson declared his final eight schools earlier in the process, and he has plans for official visits to Villanova (Sept. 4-6) and Temple (Sept. 11-13) after his stop at Illinois. Illinois was one of the first schools in on arguably the state’s top player in the upcoming class, evaluating him early in his sophomore season — before he put up 56 points during a Class 4A state semifinal game against Jahlil Okafor and Chicago Whitney Young last March. Landing Brunson would give John Groce his biggest prize since arriving at Illinois.
Point guard, Dallas Kimball
Illinois visit: TBD
Others vying for his services: Oklahoma State, Southern Cal and Texas
Outlook: Has seen his stock rise rapidly with his play on the AAU circuit in the spring and summer. Illinois has developed a solid relationship with Evans throughout the process, aided by assistant coach Jamall Walker. He’s quick with the ball and in the open floor, but he needs to work a bit on his outside shot. If he is the only point guard prospect who picks Illinois, he would have the chance to seize the starting job at the onset of the 2015-16 season. He’s not quite on the same level as Brunson, but he’s certainly not seen as a fallback plan.
Point guard, Columbia (Mo.) Hickman
Illinois visit: Sept. 13-15
Others vying for his services: Arkansas, Marquette, Missouri and SMU
Outlook: Getting the four-star recruit away from his hometown Tigers and to Champaign would prove quite a coup — but perhaps not one as big as it looks on paper. Walker has helped play a pivotal role in why Whitt is strongly considering Illinois. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound Whitt is among the upper echelon of point guards in the class. His visit to Illinois is the second of five official visits he has planned, with Marquette (Sept. 5-7) up first before taking in SMU (Sept. 19-21), Arkansas (Oct. 10-12) and Missouri (Oct. 25-27).
Center, Lancaster (Texas)
Illinois visit: Sept. 19-21
Others vying for his services: LSU, Oklahoma State, SMU, Texas A&M and UNLV
Outlook: Having a point guard is critical for Illinois but adding a premier big man is another major focal point. Thomas fits that description. The five-star recruit near the Dallas area has whittled his lengthy list of schools to six, at least at this point. He is set to take an official visit to Oklahoma State the week before he arrives at Illinois. A skilled big man, Thomas has a knack for rebounding and scoring around the basket along with stepping out for some midrange jumpers, reasons why so many teams from across the country are after him.
Shooting guard, Owasso (Okla.)
Illinois visit: Oct. 3-5
Others vying for his services: Indiana, Oklahoma and SMU
Outlook: If Milton were to pick Illinois, it’d be a rare add. Junior college transfer Rodney Alexander, a Michigan native, landed at Illinois from Redlands Community College in El Reno, Okla. But Alexander only lasted the 2007-08 season before he left the program. Illinois has had one player from the Sooner State letter for it. That was Forrest Lindsay from Tulsa — during the 1925-26 season. Illinois is the last of four visits for Milton, who plans to check out Oklahoma on Aug. 22-24, SMU on Sept. 5-7 and Indiana on Sept. 26-28.