Illini wait with bated breath

Illini wait with bated breath

CHAMPAIGN — The specter of Illinois' recruiting misses past continues to linger.

Some were simple rejections like Jalen Brunson unzipping a hoodie to reveal a Villanova T-shirt.

Others were piercing blows. Cliff Alexander and his hats. Eric Gordon flipping to Indiana. The steady stream of point guards headed elsewhere in the John Groce era.

Illinois has reached another recruiting nexus. Five-star guard Ayo Dosunmu will announce his commitment — Illinois or Wake Forest — at 7 p.m. today in downtown Chicago.

An Illini commitment from Dosunmu would make him Brad Underwood's first for 2018, and the 6-foot-5 Morgan Park point guard would tie Illinois back to Chicago. Plus, following up landing 2017 Mr. Basketball Mark Smith with the runaway favorite for 2018 might eliminate the specter of Illinois' recent checkered recruiting past.

"I just think this one is going to land in Illinois' favor," said Joe Henricksen, the editor and publisher of City/Suburban Hoops Report, earlier this fall. "I know fans have heard that and have maybe become immune to that by now, but I think they will be celebrating this one in time."

Henricksen called Illinois' 2018 recruiting "a tricky time." The Illini are one of two Big Ten teams — Nebraska the other — without a commitment. The 2018 class is of vital importance, however, as it fits after Underwood was able to add Smith, Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel to a 2017 class that already had four-star guards Da'Monte Williams and Trent Frazier.

"They've got to get a couple of pieces to add on to what they just got," Henricksen said. "Yes, Dosunmu's a top 30ish type of player, but not one that you say, 'OK, our program is immediately turned around because of this class.'

"But if you add this class to the one they got with Frazier and Smith and Williams, now you're starting to pile up respectable, very good, solid classes if it lands the way they hope it does."

Underwood considers the 2017 recruiting class his first at Illinois. Makes sense considering he added three of the five now Illini freshmen after he was hired in March.

But the 2018 recruiting class was always going to be harder. The new Illinois coaching staff was behind in relationship building and doesn't have anything truly tangible it can sell when it comes to how Underwood's system will look in orange and blue.

"We're selling dreams, not reality," Underwood said. "We knew there were going to be some difficulties. It's not a shock. We knew there was going to be some speed bumps, but I love the guys we're involved with. ... The guys we've all recruited, we're very positive that they can come in and play or we wouldn't have recruited them."