CHAMPAIGN — The fit seemed perfect. Illinois had an open scholarship and a real need for a dynamic athlete that could play either forward position and do so immediately. TJ Holyfield fit the bill, on the move as a graduate transfer from Stephen F. Austin.
Holyfield had the relationship with Illinois coach Brad Underwood, having played for him as a freshman with the Lumberjacks. And the Illini got the 6-foot-8, 227-pound forward’s final visit after he made trips to Texas Tech and Kansas.
What seemed like a no brainer fit apparently wasn’t enough, though. Holyfield announced Saturday he would spend his final season at Texas Tech. While Illinois would have been a known quantity for Holyfield with a coach and system he was intimately familiar with, the Red Raiders had much more recent success to sell given an Elite Eight and national title game appearance in coach Chris Beard’s last two seasons.
"The journey continues in Lubbock!" Holyfield tweeted Saturday afternoon, ending a weeklong wait for the respective fan bases of his final three. "I'm happy to announce I've committed to the 2019 Big 12 Champions! Excited to be a part of the Red Raider family and ready to get back on the court again!"
The journey continues in Lubbock! I'm happy to announce I've committed to the 2019 Big 12 Champions! Excited to be a part of the Red Raider family and ready to get back on the court again! #GunsUp #WreckEm
— TJ Holyfield (@teejayy_22) May 11, 2019
The next move for Illinois is uncertain, with options dwindling as spring heads into summer. The Illini missed out on 2019 forward Olivier Robinson-Nkahmoua (committed to Tennessee) and junior college All-American guard Tomas Woldetensae (committed to Virginia) earlier in the week.
The spring signing period ends Wednesday, and Illinois has signed just four-star center Kofi Cockburn in the 2019 class. The Illini are waiting on the same from three-star forward Bernard Kouma, who committed sight unseen last month and has yet to visit campus. That leaves two open scholarships for the 2019-20 season, with Kouma currently claiming the third.
Illinois has expressed interest in Iowa graduate transfer guard Isaiah Moss — a knockdown three-point shooter with ties to the state as a Simeon grad. Beyond that? The recruiting board that at one point held 60-plus names in the 2019 class now sits nearly empty.