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 until practice tips off.
Way too early preseason projections aren’t just limited to college basketball, where Top 25s start flying around as soon as the national championship game is finished in April. I’ve been good for at least my top 10 that next morning in each of the past four years.
Joe Henricksen, editor/publisher of City/Suburban Hoops Report and a Chicago Sun Times contributor, laid out his top five teams in the Chicago area on Tuesday morning. No specific order (other than alphabetical) just yet for those five teams, but the cream of the Chicago crop is certainly worth keeping an eye in regards to Illinois recruiting.
The Blazing Trojans’ senior-heavy roster is anchored in the middle (although sometimes on the perimeter) by Martice Mitchell. The 6-foot-10 center drew some attention from the Illinois coaching staff during the NCAA College Basketball Academy on campus in late July.
“It means a lot being my home state, obviously,” Mitchell told The News-Gazette during the camp regarding the interest from the Illini. “I like Illinois as a program. I would really consider coming here.”
Illinois hasn’t offered, but the three-star center has plenty of high-major options. He’s received offers from Ole Miss, Oregon, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota and Xavier since his time on the Illinois campus in July.
No surprise here that the Mustangs made Henricksen’s list, and they’re certainly a team the Illinois coaches will track this season. Senior guard Adam Miller — a consensus four-star prospect — is one of the top players on the Illini’s recruiting board. Brad Underwood and Co. had also offered his backcourt running mate Marcus Watson Jr., but the three-star guard committed to Wake Forest on Aug. 20.
Those two aren’t the only reason for the Illinois staff to follow Morgan Park this season. Class of 2021 guard Brandon Weston also holds an Illini offer, and 2020 forward Seryee Lewis — new to the Mustangs after stops at Marist and Kenwood — took an unofficial visit to Champaign last season.
Niles Notre Dame
The Dons already had an intriguing roster with Class of 2021 prospects Anthony Sayles and Troy D’Amico. That only intensified this offseason when French national Louis Lesmond transferred from Evanston after playing a key role off the bench late last season for the Class 4A state runners-up. Illinois has expressed some interest in Sayles and offered Lesmond this summer.
No Illinois targets on the Patriots’ roster this season. But Stevenson did win the Riverside-Brookfield shootout this past June and sent Matt Ambrose, Evan Ambrose and John Ittounas to the NCAA College Basketball Academy in Champaign in July.
What makes Miller just one of the top targets on Illinois’ Class of 2020 recruiting board is the Dolphins’ DJ Steward. The newly-christened five-star guard (per both 247Sports and ESPN) has been firmly on the Illini’s radar since getting his offer two years ago.
Like with Miller, Steward has trimmed his list to include Illinois. Also like Miller, there are other prominent suitors for the 6-3 guard. In Steward’s case, both Duke and North Carolina loom large.