College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team:

By the time you read this, college basketball coaches across the country will have had at least six hours to contact Class of 2023 recruits directly. It's June 15! Recruiting those rising juniors takes on a different level. Different, not new. Plenty of those 2023 prospects are deep into their recruitments.

So is Illinois. Brad Underwood and Co. have offered 30 recruits in the '23 class. Only two are off the board, with twins Matthew and Ryan Bewley opting for the professional route as the first two players to sign with the Overtime Elite League. But let's break down the rest of the remaining offers a little more ...

Top-ranked recruit

Because individual rankings vary from service to service — the offerings from Rivals to 247Sports to ESPN are rarely in line with each other — let's use the 247Sports Composite to determine the highest ranked prospect on Illinois' 2023 board.

The current leader? Five-star forward Kwame Evans Jr., who ranks No. 5 in the class. Illinois has actually offered six of the top 10 recruits in the class, including No. 2 Matthew Bewley, No. 6 Omaha Biliew, No. 7 JJ Taylor, No. 8 Simeon Wilcher and No. 9 Baye Fall.

Evans is a Baltimore native and actually had his offer before Underwood added Chester Frazier (also a Baltimore native) to his coaching staff. Like plenty of top prospects, of course, Evans is on the move for his junior season. He'll play in 2021-22 at national powerhouse Montverde Academy (Fla.) after starting his high school career at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute aka "BPI" or "Poly."

Evans, a 6-foot-8, 190-pound wing, didn't play in 2020-21, as Baltimore City public schools canceled the season because of COVID-19. He started as a freshman for the Engineers and averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and two blocks in 2019-20 before that season was cut short because of the pandemic.

In-state recruit to watch

Illinois has offered six in-state recruits in the Class of 2023, including Whitney Young point guard Dalen Davis and Bolingbrook forward Donaven Younger. The Illini were also the first offer for Bradley-Bourbonnais center Owen Freeman, who has added offers from Iowa, Butler, Wake Forest, Purdue and Ohio State this month. 

The top in-state target, though, is Taylor, who is one of three Kenwood standouts with an Illinois offer along with point guard Darrin Ames and forward Davius Loury. Taylor should be a consensus five-star recruit once Rivals releases its 2023 rankings given he has that status from both 247Sports and ESPN. The 6-8, 185-pound wing averaged 28.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in 2020-21.

By position

There's no telling what Illinois' positional needs will be when its time to start signing the Class of 2023 given the transitory nature of college basketball rosters with freebie one-time transfers now allowed. The mix right now seems to be equal parts bigs, wings and lead guards:

  • PG/CG — 11
  • SG/SF — 8
  • PF/C — 9

Geographic footprint

Most of the offers out in the Class of 2023 came when Illinois' coaching staff included assistants Orlando Antigua, Chin Coleman and Stephen Gentry. So a couple targets from the Tri-state area shouldn't be a surprise, but overall it's a "try to recruit nationally" spread that goes out west for guards like Chuck Bailey III (Higley, Ariz.) and Kylan Boswell (Corona, Calif.), east like Wilcher (Plainfield, N.J.) and Brandon Gardner (Columbia, S.C.) and smack dab in the middle of the country for plenty more.

Illinois' Class of 2023 recruiting board also features players with international ties. That includes a pair of big men playing in Colorado but originally from Senegal in Fall and Assane Diop and a Congo native playing in Kentucky in Cyr Malonga.

Newest targets

While Illinois' 2023 board is heavy on offers from before the staff changes, Chester Frazier has added to it, too. His efforts have the Illini pursuing a four-star guard out of Florida in Marvel Allen and another from powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Va.) in Caleb Foster and an unranked guard from nearby in St. Joseph-Ogden's Ty Pence.

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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