Asmussen: Mizzou continues climb by adding Tilmon

Asmussen: Mizzou continues climb by adding Tilmon

At this moment, the winner is ... Missouri.

The Tigers just landed another top recruit. Jeremiah Tilmon signed with Cuonzo Martin’s team Monday, ending a two-school odyssey that at one point included him signing with Illinois.

That changed after John Groce was fired. As is his right, Tilmon asked out of his deal with the Illini and became a college basketball free agent.

There weren’t a lot of unclaimed big guys with Tilmon’s skillset. His options seemed endless.

But he settled on Missouri, one of the worst programs in the Power Six. Lagging attendance and interest. An underwhelming coaching hire. That was Missouri.

The school made a positive move March 15 luring Cuonzo Martin close to home (East St. Louis) from faraway Cal.

Not everyone is high on Martin the coach, but I am. The cancer survivor is 186-121 in stops at Missouri State, Tennessee and Cal. His teams have made two NCAA tournament appearances and four trips to the NIT.

When Martin was mentioned as a possible replacement for Groce, I thought it made a lot of sense. He figured to be able to both keep Tilmon and bring in other high-profile recruits.

Josh Whitman went another direction, hiring Brad Underwood away from Oklahoma State after one season. So far, Underwood has been a smash. He landed Illinois’ best, News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year Mark Smith.

Did Underwood ever have a chance to bring back Tilmon? We might never know. The guess here: doubtful.

The reaction toward Tilmon from some Illinois fans was much less than friendly. They questioned his motivations. Fans can be emotional and short-sighted. The big picture often gets pushed aside.


Down the road

The attention turns immediately to the late-December Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. Missouri’s roster will include a future NBA lottery pick, Michael Porter Jr., and Tilmon.

The booing, from at least half the Scottrade Center crowd, will start during warmups. The game will temporarily revitalize the series, which has been owned in recent years by Illinois.

No matter what happens in the first meeting between Tilmon and his almost-teammates, the reaction will be overblown. “Ah-ha,” the Illinois fans will shout if their team wins again. “You should never have gone to Mizzou.” “We’re baaaack,” the Missouri fans will roar if the Tigers stop the four-game skid.

But what happens next? Will one year of Porter push Missouri toward the top of college basketball? Or will it be similar to LSU with Ben Simmons? The team had a so-so season and the player became the first pick in the NBA draft. Since then, LSU fired coach Johnny Jones and replaced him with Will Wade.

Missouri fans are historically fickle. They are with the team in good times and better times. But the first sign of trouble, they will flee. They are reluctant followers. Unless Martin is able to build a consistent SEC threat, the Missouri fans will fail to commit for the long haul.

The school is still trying to recover from the Frank Haith era. Kim Anderson had little chance to fix the mess. Now it is Martin’s turn.

Illinois has short-term issues and long-term answers. Smith might not be a star his first year, but his four years could be special. Malcolm Hill just finished four years at Illinois that were among the most productive in school history. Smith has the potential to match, or surpass, Hill’s career.


Trading places

Missouri isn’t in the Big Ten, though it wanted to join at one point. Sitting at the western edge of the SEC, the school’s athletic program has little in common with Illinois. They haven’t played in football since 2010, and there are no future games scheduled.

They play baseball every year in the St. Louis suburbs, a game that works for both programs.

Other than basketball, there is no reason for a rivalry between the schools. Illinois isn’t supposed to like Indiana or Michigan or Iowa or Northwestern. Those rivalries make sense. Illinois-Missouri is not relevant.

And the home communities have no reason to bicker.

I prefer Champaign-Urbana, but Columbia, Mo., is a pleasant city. It has a lot of the same restaurants (C-U wins the pizza battle). Both communities have malls and parks and good schools. They could be friends.

One basketball defection by a teenager shouldn’t change your perception of the non-rivals. Please, root for the player. Hope he has a successful career and makes a lot of money to help his family.
Stay positive. Look forward to the future. Make it impossible for Tilmon to hold a grudge when he sees your favorite team in December. You will feel better about yourselves.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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Moonpie wrote on May 17, 2017 at 10:05 am

He chose one of the worst programs after shunning one of the worst.

Did The Latest Coaching Installment have a chane to get Tilmon? Instead of guessing, why not ask. Be a persistent reporter, that lost art.

ChicagoIllini wrote on May 18, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Bob, just one nit to pick - Illinois-Missouri is indeed an intense rivalry in the St. Louis metro area, which anyone who's been to a Braggin Rights game should appreciate.  Illini fans in the rest of the state may not care too much about it, but for St. Louis area fans the Mizzou game is one you circle on the calendar at the beginning of the season.  The name is not hyperbole - there are indeed bragging rights at stake, and Christmas is always a lot sweeter with a win over the hated Tigers.