Looks Like University Of Illinois – Quentin Snider

I had to be there.

When I left St. Louis, it was still mostly up in the air. Quentin Snider will pick between Illinois and UCLA at a press conference in his high school gym at 7:00 EDT. I had done the math and knew that I could cover the 261 miles without even a bathroom break. But what if I drove all the way to Louisville and he picked UCLA? What if I had to be in attendance while he called Steve Alford and told him his perfect hair had sealed the deal? How long is that drive home?

By the gas station in Mt. Vernon, it appeared that it was over. Jeff Goodman with ESPN had put up a “sources confirm Snider to Illinois”, so I felt a lot better about my trip. In fact, at that time, I was really hoping there would be hats. There were hats when I went to Brad Beal’s press conference, and he didn’t pick the orange one (at least not the correct orange one), so I was hoping for hats this time.

No hats. But I didn’t care. After a brief scare from a football player who walked through after practice – “What are y’all setting up cameras for? Quentin is announcing his school? Y’all gonna be surprised” (the surprise was that Snider picked Illinois over college basketball giant UCLA) – I did get to hear those words. My heart’s racing, he’s going to say it… THERE IT IS. Illinoissss. (Varrrrsihhhhhteeee.)

The next 30 minutes were a flurry as I scrambled around getting interviews with Quentin and his dad and his high school coach (all posted here). And I listened in on other interviews, too. And just general conversations around the room. Here’s a few takeaways from all of that:

  • John Groce John Groce John Groce. There wasn’t a single person being interviewed that didn’t gush about him. Sometimes, recruits choose schools. I can honestly say that the name “Illinois” had absolutely nothing to do with this verbal. Snider had never seen a single game and had to google videos of last year’s team. His family was bombarded once he opened up his recruitment six weeks ago, getting phone calls and recruiting pitches from everyone from Tom Izzo to Buzz Williams. And one voice stuck out – John Groce. His high school coach told me that he called Scott Snider (Quentin’s dad) and told him that he needed to listen to Coach Groce.
  • The in-home visit on Monday night sealed the deal much more than the official visit over the weekend. Picking up on a few clues from what Quentin and his dad said, they felt like John Groce was telling the truth and not “telling them what they wanted to hear”. Several times while speaking to reporters, Quentin, his coach, and his dad mentioned how Monday night’s visit was a no-pressure, hang-out-and-watch-football, “let’s get to know each other on your turf” affair with no hard sales job.
  • I heard his dad (or was it his coach?) say “Coach Groce didn’t talk bad about other programs one time – he was there to tell us about his program, not drag down others” in an interview. Was he saying this because another coach did that? Not sure. But again, Groce locked this up on Monday night. Alford couldn’t match the visit on Tuesday, they took Wednesday to think about it, and Thursday morning over breakfast Quentin and his dad decided it was time, called his high school and AAU coach, they were all on board, so they let it be known they were ready to announce.

I don’t say this to enflame, but being there, especially talking to his dad, made me view my thirst for “sources” and “insider information” in an entirely different way. Everyone is dying for recruiting information, and it’s out there to be had (both good and bad). And some connected people are probably hearing this or that, reading the tea leaves, and giving educated guesses. There’s a reason the 24/7 Crystal Ball was right on this recruitment and the Leron Black recruitment. Sometimes there are enough clues.

But I have to say: I don’t think this decision was made until Thursday morning. I don’t think his dad was lying when he told me that he woke up at 3:00 in the morning on Wednesday worried sick about all of this, wondering if they were going to make the right decision. He said he went into work early because he couldn’t sleep. His body language when talking about how he and Quentin had the talk Thursday morning and came to a final decision – the relief on his face – that told the story for me. Insiders are learning to always bet on Groce, but I really don’t think this decision was made until Thursday.

(Don’t worry, if the Crystal Ball starts swinging towards Cliff Alexander, I’ll be right back to saying THESE INSIDERS HAVE HEARD SOME SOLID INFORMATION).

OK, so what does this mean? Well, it means we’re back. All the way back. We ARE Illinois basketball. I said this on Twitter last night, but I really do think we’ll look back at the 2012/13 team in 20 years and see them as the team that brought us back. They built the foundation, they climbed all the way to a seven seed, they beat #1 Indiana on ESPN, and as a result, John Groce had something to sell. And with something to sell, Groce just landed two out-of-state top-40 kids (according to resident Illini historian Larue, that’s the first time that’s happened since the 1970′s).

I don’t have time right now to calculate my own RSCI, but using 24/7′s Composite Ranking (they kind of do their own RSCI where they average the rankings), Snider comes in at #34 nationally. So using Leron Black’s ranking that I calculated a few weeks ago (yes, I know that Rivals dropped him 15 spots in their latest update, so this number might drop a few spots), here’s where these kids fall on the ranking of best Illini recruits since the RSCI began tracking this in 1998:

#19 Dee Brown
#20 Brian Cook
#21 Frank Williams
#24 Jereme Richmond
#28 Richard McBride
#29 Meyers Leonard
#31 Leron Black
#34 Quentin Snider

#35 DJ Richardson
#36 Alex Legion
#48 Deron Williams
#49 Brandon Paul
#49 Brian Carlwell
#53 Brian Randle
#57 Kendrick Nunn
#62 Roger Powell
#65 Mike Shaw
#66 Myke Henry
#69 Tracy Abrams
#70 Malcolm Hill
#71 Demitri McCamey
#77 Shaun Pruitt
#77 Nick Smith
#78 James Augustine
#78 Nnanna Egwu
#86 Aaron Spears

Where does he fit as a freshman? Quite beautifully, I must say. Say we rotate 10 guys on the 2014/15 team – here’s the ten:

1: Tracy Abrams (SR), Quentin Snider (FR)
2: Aaron Cosby (JR), Kendrick Nunn (SO)
3: Rayvonte Rice (SR), Malcolm Hill (SO)
4: Leron Black (FR), Darius Paul (SO)
5: Nnanna Egwu (SR), Maverick Morgan (SO)

We’re so freaking back. Sure, maybe Hill starts over Rice. Maybe Paul over Black. That’s the point. We’re so deep that we’re back.

What’s that? What happens after those three seniors graduate? Glad you asked. Snider-Cosby-Hill/Nunn-Black-Morgan with Paul and Colbert off the bench. And if we need a stretch four there’s Finke. And Jaylon Tate might surprise at guard. Oh yeah, and there’s now no reason not to expect John Groce to land a couple top-50 kids with his three 2015 scholarships. So if you see some holes there – like, say, another big – well, John Groce will probably just go out and land Carlton Bragg or something. Because he’s apparently unstoppable.

Need proof? No less than four hours after Snider verbals, this comes out:

We’ve landed two top-40 kids and now a top five kid like Cliff Alexander – he of “I’ve already visited Illinois so they won’t be one of my official visits” – is going to visit Homecoming weekend in the single biggest on-campus visit since Derrick Rose in the fall of 2006? Are you kiddin’ me John Groce? Is there anything you can’t do?

I can’t think about that anymore or my beard will explode. Let’s get to Tom Cruises. I have now painted myself in a corner. I’ve already said that 5 Tom Cruises is reserved for the nuclear meltdown verbal – Cliff Alexander for basketball or Adoree Jackson for football. You don’t just go around giving out A-pluses to everyone.

But what do I do when I already gave Leron Black 4.5 Tom Cruises? Adding the lead guard that John Groce has been looking for since he arrived in Champaign is a big, big deal. Leron Black was a great get, but with the offensive fit (and the fact that Snider might finish a few spots higher than Black when the final RSCI comes out) it feels like Snider needs to be a bit higher.

And so that’s what I’ll do. I swore I would only ever cut Tom Cruise in half, but I will now break my own rule. Because John Groce is making it impossible. And that is a gorgeous thing.

Quentin Snider. 4.71 Tom Cruises.

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Quentin Snider Press Conference Interviews

Robert made his way to Louisville to be there in person for Quentin Snider’s announcement of his commitment to the Fighting Illini, and he picked up a bunch of interviews from he people in attendance: Quentin Snider himself, Scott Snider, Quentin’s father, and Chris Renner his high school coach.  The interviews are embedded below.

Quentin Snider

Scott Snider

Chris Renner

Quentin Snider Press Conference Live Chat

Follow along with Robert as he tweets live coverage of the Quentin Snider Press Conference tonight.

 

Reports: Quentin Snider to Announce for Illinois

As we await the official word from Quentin Snider’s 6:00PM Central press conference this evening in Louisville, reports are coming in from various media sources that Quentin will choose to attend the University of Illinois.  Quentin is a top point guard, and is a coup for John Groce as he looks to bring the Fighting Illini back to the Final Four.

The first to report this news was Tom Fornelli of The Champaign Room: http://www.thechampaignroom.com/2013/9/10/4714992/recruiting-quentin-snider-illinois

As a fan base we have been sitting around taking in every single update on the recruitment of four-star point guard Quentin Snider. We’ve been refreshing Dustin Ford’s Twitter page just waiting for that “I-L-L!’ tweet to show up to let us know it’s happened.

Well, we may have to wait a few more days, but the good news will be coming.

A source close to the situation has told The Champaign Room that Quentin Snider will commit to Illinois.

Discuss the probable commitment of Quentin on the IlliniBoard.com Hoops Fan Forum.

Looks Like University Of Illinois: Leron Black

My plan was to post nothing today. Long buildup, new site, at least two posts every day since we began, game yesterday, holiday weekend, time for a day off. My fingers can rest.

I wasn’t even going to check Twitter very much. Take a day off, back at it on Monday. And then a text from my friend Tom at 9:30 this morning.

Groce is such a closer.

Yes he is. With nearly every recruit I’ve always wanted the last visit. With Groce, I want the first. A quick recap:

Marverick Morgan was headed to Wisconsin the next day. NOPE, Illinois verbal.
Kendrick Nunn was headed to Marquette next. NOPE, Illinois verbal.
Aaron Cosby was headed to Missouri the day after his Illinois visit. NOPE, Illinois verbal.
Leron Black had visits set up with Baylor, Indiana, and Tennessee. NOPE, Illinois verbal.

And it wasn’t just Indiana, Baylor, and Tennessee. When was the last time we beat everyone for a kid with offers like UConn, Indiana, Louisville, Arizona, Florida, Ohio State, and dozens of others?

To me, that’s the biggest thing about the Black commitment. When was the last time we won?

Generally, I look at it like this: Bruce Weber struggled as a recruiter in his first five years. That’s never really been questioned. But then he turned it around by changing the way he recruited: get involved before the big boys come calling (well, that, and adding Jerrance Howard).

With Jereme Richmond, he landed him before his freshman high school season. Meyers Leonard was the summer after his sophomore year. Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson were added before their junior seasons. The last player we landed where all of the big boys were involved? Probably Dee Brown.

That’s what makes this so fantastically awesome. We turned away from lower ranked kids to focus on the big boys. When Larry Austin committed to Tennessee, he even said that we had “backed off” our recruitment of him. We focused on four players in the top third of the top-100 (Cliff Alexander, Jahlil Okafor, JaQuan Lyle, and Leron Black), and now we’ve landed one of them.

Holy crap, we landed one of them. I wrote earlier this summer that my expectations were 4-2-1: Focus on those four guys, get two visits, land one of them. And now it’s done. Leron Black to Illinois.

Where does he rank? The RSCI isn’t out yet, so of course I put together one of my own. Here’s Black’s ranking on the six services that RSCI uses:

ESPN: 36
Rivals: 22
Scout: 46
Van Coleman: 19
24/7: 38
PrepStars: 25

Average ranking: 31

But to weed out players that are ranked all over (or even unranked on some lists), RSCI uses a point total based on their ranking. Here’s Black’s point total:

ESPN: 65
Rivals: 79
Scout: 55
Van Coleman: 82
24/7: 63
Prepstars: 76

Point total: 420

420 points on the 2013 RSCI would have been 28th. So that’s the type of player we’ve landed here. In fact, let’s list him at #31 and place him with all of our RSCI top-100 recruits since 1998:

#19 Dee Brown
#20 Brian Cook
#21 Frank Williams
#24 Jereme Richmond
#28 Richard McBride
#29 Meyers Leonard
#31 Leron Black
#35 DJ Richardson
#36 Alex Legion
#48 Deron Williams
#49 Brandon Paul
#49 Brian Carlwell
#53 Brian Randle
#57 Kendrick Nunn
#62 Roger Powell
#65 Mike Shaw
#66 Myke Henry
#69 Tracy Abrams
#70 Malcolm Hill
#71 Demitri McCamey
#77 Shaun Pruitt
#77 Nick Smith
#78 James Augustine
#78 Nnanna Egwu
#86 Aaron Spears

Between Meyers and DJ? WANT. Seventh best recruit of the last 17 years? YES PLEASE.

But wait. There’s more.

He pretty much fits perfectly into the 2014/15 team. He probably best compares to a Roger Powell, althoughy maybe less outside shoot-y and more rebound-y and dirty work-y. Wait, I think I wrote about this already. Let me copy my words from my last post about Black:

When you read comments from recruiting analysts and flip through some AAU tweets, you see the word “rebounding” a lot. Adding a 3/4 who excels at rebounding to the 2014/15 team, why, that’s nearly perfect. Abrams, Cosby, Hill, Nunn, Rice, Paul, Black, Egwu? I see all the pieces to the puzzle there. Experience, scoring, defense, athleticism, length, and, with Black, some rebounding punch.

So now, we lose Joseph Bertrand (and 5th-year transfer Jon Ekey) after next season, but we add Aaron Cosby, Darius Paul, Michael Finke, and Leron Black next fall. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done. Cosby and Paul both far outperformed their high school rankings and looked to transfer up, and both landed at Illinois. Finke fills that stretch four role (Griffey last year, Ekey this year, Finke after that). And Leron Black is a 5-star per a few of the recruiting services. Scoring, rebounding, role players – that’s how you rebuild a basketball program.

Are we done in 2014? Well, maybe. It now depends on Ahmad Starks’ waiver process. If he gets the waiver and can play immediately, we have one more scholarship for 2014. If he doesn’t get the waiver, we’re out of 2014 rides.

So while we wait for that ruling, we’ll continue to chase Cliff Alexander (although he won’t be visiting). And we’ll chase Quentin Snyder, who has replaced JaQuan Lyle in this whole process (literally – Lyle verballed to Louisville, Snyder decommitted from Louisville and added us to his list). And we’ll continue to chase 2015 kids like Carlton Bragg and DJ Williams with Leron Black in our pocket BECAUSE BASKETBALL RECRUITING IS FUN AGAIN.

OK, Tom Cruises. In order to give out the full five Tom Cruises, I ask myself “could we do better?”. And the answer here is yes. If a Cliff Alexander picks the basketball program or an Adoree Jackson selects the football program, it will never get any better. 5 Tom Cruises. This is a half step behind that, just like Wes Lunt. So there’s your answer: Leron Black. 4.5 Tom Cruises.

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4 Players, 2 Visits, 1 Verbal

I feel like there’s this August 1st line when there really isn’t a line at all. For example, when I wrote about hoops recruiting this summer over on the other site, I’ve mentioned this 4-2-1 stance that I’ve taken. But now that I’m writing words over here and not over there, I feel like I need to update everyone on everything. Like I just started writing over here and no one is familiar with my thoughts or positions.

Great opener, Robert. Anyway, 4-2-1. My theory going into the summer was that we had focused on four guys: Cliff Alexander, JaQuan Lyle, Leron Black, and Jahlil Okafor. When the first RSCI comes out, all of these guys will be in the top-30. We’re going big or we’re going home (empty handed).

And with Ahmad Starks’ waiver situation up in the air (if he gets the waiver we have two available scholarships; if he doesn’t we only have one), we can really only truly add one player from the 2014 class. Yes, it’s possible someone else leaves before this time next year, but the fat has been trimmed from this roster already, so that would be hard to see.

Given all of that, I set my expectations at this: 4-2-1. Chase four guys all summer, find some way to get two of them on campus this fall for official visits, sign one of them in November. Anything less and we’ll have fallen short. Anything more and Groce for President.

My little theory took a hit when Jaquan Lyle verballed to Louisville. My first reaction: “now it’s 3-2-1, and with Jahlil Okafor the longest of long longshots, it’s really 2-2-1.” I talked myself down from that with math. 4-2-1 means two guys won’t even visit. That’s already accounted for. Lyle just takes up one of those two “goes elsewhere without visiting” spots. We’re still on track.

Today, my little theory got a boost. 24/7 Sports has grown in stature lately in their hope to stand alongside Rivals and Scout and ESPN in the recruiting game (both football and basketball). And 24/7 has a pretty neat feature they’ve added called the Crystal Ball. Take their recruiting experts – the guys with their ears on the railroad tracks – and get them to go on the record predicting where a player might end up. Want to know which way a player is leaning? Check the crystal ball.

And today, the Leron Black crystal ball just got interesting. Black is a 3/4 forward from Memphis who is in the top-30 in most of the rankings (I believe he’s #36 on ESPN). He was originally a Baylor commit, but he backed off of that and we’ve been involved. But the heavy favorite to land him is the team that landed the top-50 point guard from his high school (Chris Chiozza), the Florida Gators.

From May 14th until August 2nd there were 11 predictions in 24/7′s “Crystal Ball”. And all 11 recruiting experts guessed Florida. Then, on Saturday, one recruiting expert guessed Memphis. On Monday, the recruiting reporter from the Memphis Commercial Appeal – the guy who correctly predicted Chiozza to Florida – guessed the Leron Black would go to… The University of Illinois. And on Tuesday another recruiting expert from Future150 predicted that Black would pick… The University of Illinois.

And today it just got real. Jerry Meyer, director of scouting for 24/7 and top-5 guru nationally, predicted that Leron Black would pick… The University of Illinois. Prepare thy Tom Cruises, mateys.

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a long way to go between here and there and a lot of Billy Donovans and Josh Pasters to jump over. We haven’t even had him in for a visit yet. He won’t sign until November, so everyone take a deep breath.

OK STOP DOING THAT I TOTALLY JUST CHECKED AGAIN AND ANOTHER EXPERT NAMED ERIC HAMPFORD JUST PREDICTED BLACK WOULD GO TO ILLINOIS. PREPARE THE FATTED CALF.

John Groce. Making recruiting fun again, since 2012.

OK, so now that Black is an absolute lock to lead us to the Sweet 16 in 2014/15 (Abrams-Cosby-Hill-Black-Egwu?), let’s concentrate on landing Cliff and making the final four. 4-2-TWO!

That’s not really going to happen, by the way. I’m happy just landing one of these four – no chance we’d land two. But man, if we did….

Go Big Or Go Home

Finally, some time to sit down and WRITE. It’s been a bit crazy around here the last few weeks. Work, vacation, spending some time (OK, a lot of time) tinkering with some website changes. AND, I’m writing an Illini preview for a magazine this summer, so that is taking up a lot of my time.

It’s been a blast, but I feel like I haven’t had time to just sit down and WRITE for about two weeks. When I do find time, it’s a new football recruit I need to LLUOI, or another 90i post that needs to be written. But now, at 11:49 pm on a Saturday night, the house is quiet, the dog is asleep, and I have basketball recruiting on my mind.

Here’s my thoughts on the current July AAU season. John Groce spent his first 15 months on the job building a roster for 2013/14. When he took over, he inherited a roster of four kids from the 2009 recruiting class, zero kids from 2010, six players from the 2011 recruiting class, and zero in 2012. And to make matters worse, some of the players from the 2011 class just weren’t Big Ten players (proven out by the schools they transferred to).

So John Groce knew that he had a roster with some senior talent, but once those players were gone, he’d be doing a complete program overhaul. I doubt he knew that four guys from the 2011 class would transfer (I think he probably expected two), but with nobody in the 2010 or 2012 classes, he knew that his second team would be mostly new players.

By getting Rayvonte Rice to transfer, plus adding a 5th year transfer in Jon Ekey, plus adding a likely-eligible transfer in Ahmad Starks, Groce was able to add some experience to a team that had very little. And looking ahead to his third team, he added even more experience with transfers Darius Paul and Aaron Cosby.

In addition to that, he brought in a surprisingly solid first class given that he only had six months to recruit. ESPN ranks the class 15th best in the nation; Scout has it 20th, Rivals 18th. A top-20 class in your first year is impressive. Add to that several impact transfers and this program is pointed in the right direction.

But…

We’re still not at the level of the teams we’re currently looking up at in the Big Ten. Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan State are all recruiting circles around the rest of the Big Ten. Every time I catch myself thinking “man, add Cosby to a backcourt with Nunn and Hill…”, I have to realize that those four schools probably have more talented players than Cosby, Hill, and Nunn. We’re recruiting like we want to be a top-25 mainstay again; they’re recruiting like they never want to leave the top-10.

Which brings me to July 2013 and John Groce’s apparent pursuit of 5-stars and 5-stars only. Here’s my take on what’s going on.

In his first 15 months, Groce built a foundation. A few top-100 players, yes, but mostly complementary pieces. Transfers like Rice, Cosby, and Paul. Promising (but project) bigs like Colbert and Morgan. 5th-year transfers to plug a gap here or there. Now, all that’s left is the centerpiece. Which is why we’re apparently ignoring all of the complementary players in the 2014 class and shooting for the moon.

If you’re playing Where In The World Is John Groce this week on Twitter like me, you’ve probably noticed that he’s mostly watching 5-star kids. Cliff Alexander is target one, two, and three (of course), but 2015 big man Carlton Bragg (who visited Champaign on the same day Cliff did last month) is also getting a ton of attention from us. I have two thoughts on all of this:

1) Man, that’s risky. We’re ignoring the girls in the drama department, not even talking to the cute girl in French class, and pretty much declaring we’re only going to take a cheerleader to prom. At the lunch table, our friends all question our methods – what if we blow our chance at all the other girls and are left with no prom date at all? We don’t care. We’re going big or going home.

2) Man, that’s exciting. You don’t see Iowa at all of Cliff Alexander’s games. Purdue isn’t bringing in Carlton Bragg for a visit. They’re content with trying to build a Nice Little Team. Which is fine – in a great year, you can take a Nice Little Team and maybe even make the Sweet 16. But we’re not trying to build a Nice Little Team – John Groce wants to do what Thad Matta has done at Ohio State. And to do that, he needs to bring in 5-star recruits.

Will it work? I have serious doubts. We were last ILLINOIS BASKETBALL in 2006 or so, and the class of 2014 was 10 years old then. It’s so hard to pitch Illinois right after a kid has just heard presentations from Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio State. In 2006, maybe then we had the mojo to pull something like that off, but now we’re just another school making a recruiting pitch.

But Groce seems determined to pull it off. As I said in my last basketball recruiting post, it looks like we went into the summer chasing four guys, and all four have a chance to be 5-stars in the final rankings: Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Leron Black, and JaQuan Lyle. Lyle is now off the board, having picked Louisville, which means we’re now basically chasing three guys. Oh, all three would probably be the highest ranked Illini recruit in 20 years.

Again, I like it. Go big or go home. All of the complementary pieces are in place, so let’s chase some superstars. It’s a risk – what if we strike out on all of them and there are no Plan B recruits remaining? – but I say go for it. Cliff or bust. Iowa can build a Nice Little Team – let’s try to build Illinois back to where it was.

Extreme Makeover

In 30 years, when we look back on Illini Basketball in the first 15 years of the new century, I think there’s one simplification that we’ll settle on:

“When Bruce Weber took over for Bill Self, Self left him with a Final Four roster. When John Groce took over for Bruce Weber, Weber left him with a few seniors.”

Here’s what I mean. Bruce Weber struggled with his recruiting pretty much from the moment he arrived on campus until October 11, 2007. On that day (well, that evening and the next morning) DJ Richardson, Brandon Paul, and Joseph Bertrand all said yes to Weber. Recruiting picked up from there – we added Tyler Griffey to the 2010 class, landed a top-10 class in 2010, and landed a fairly solid 2011 class. But given recent events – namely, Myke Henry becoming the fourth sophomore to leave the program, plus the entire 2010 class having left – I’m left to wonder if Bruce Weber’s recruiting could be defined as four and a half years of struggles, one great day, and then several years of busts.

Self left Weber with Dee, Deron and Augie plus Luther and Roger (who was actually a Lon Kruger recruit), and then McBride, Randle, and WarCat. In other words, pretty much all of the scoring for Weber’s first, second, third, and even fourth teams.

Weber left Groce with the 2009 class (Tyler, DJ, Brandon, and JoeBert), and then…

2010 Recruiting Class
Jereme Richmond (headed back to jail it appears)
Crandall Head (transferred to SMU)
Meyers Leonard (NBA Draft)

2011 Recruiting Class
Myke Henry (transferring)
Nnanna Egwu
Devin Langford (transferred to D-II Kentucky Wesleyan)
Tracy Abrams
Ibby Djimde (transferring)
Mike Shaw (transferred to Bradley)

2012 Recruiting Class
Michael Orris (Groce decided to, ahem, “part ways” – now at Northern Illinois)

2013 Recruiting Class
Malcolm Hill
Jalen James (Groce decided to, ahem, “part ways” – headed to San Jose State)

The most amazing thing about that list: It’s possible that of all of those transfers, Henry is the only player capable of starting at a Big Ten school. James and Orris certainly weren’t (NIU and SJSU), nor was Langford (now Division II) or Djimde (I saw something somewhere that said he might transfer to Longwood?) or even Shaw (had the physical skills but never materialized – here’s hoping he puts it all together at Bradley). So beyond the 2009 class of Brandon, Tyler, DJ, and Joe, Groce was left with Abrams and Egwu. And I guess you could count Malcolm Hill, too, although Groce had to re-recruit him.

So in his second year at the helm, and John Groce has three Weber-era players to work with. He’s had 14 months to assemble the roster. That’s fairly incredible. I wish I had one of those Extreme Makeover Home Edition cameras to document the last 14 months. Because very quickly you would see…

Got the job, parted ways with Michael Orris, parted ways with Jalen James, got the re-verbal from Malcolm Hill, recruited Sam McLaurin to play one year, added transfer Rayvonte Rice from Drake, added Maverick Morgan, added Kendrick Nunn, added Jaylon Tate, added Austin Colbert, added Michael Finke, (beat Indiana on a last second layup where all of the Indiana players just stood around derping), parted ways with Djimde, Shaw, and Langford, added Seton Hall transfer Aaron Cosby, added 5th-year Illinois State transfer Jon Ekey, added Western Michigan transfer Darius Paul, lost Myke Henry, and, possibly soon, adds Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks for one season.

March 29, 2012 through May 23, 2013. 420 days, and ALL of that. A complete and total overhaul of the roster save for Joe, Tracy, and Nnanna. His 2013/14 team will feature one redshirt senior from the 2009 class, no one from the 2010 class, Tracy and Nnanna from the 2011 class, no one from the 2012 class, and then NINE players he’s added in the last 420 days (one transfer who will be eligible after sitting out and two that have to sit out next season). NINE. NINE TIMES.

Ok which do you want first? The good news or the bad news? Good first? You got it.

#goodnews: The roster needed an overhaul. Some players because they weren’t a fit for the system, some because they weren’t any good, but many players that had to go are now gone. John Groce has landed some pretty fantastic transfers and several solid freshmen. And he’s made the top-5 list for three future McDonalds All Americans in the 2014 class. We have two scholarships open for the 2014 class now, and if he can land one of those players, he’ll have built a roster that can compete for the 2014/15 Big Ten crown.

#badnews: Next year might be even more clownshoes-y than we originally thought. With Henry gone, it looks like we’ll start Egwu and ISU-transfer Ekey in the frontcourt with true-freshmen Colbert and Morgan playing a lot of minutes off the bench. When we’re at Michigan State, and Egwu gets two quick fouls, and we finish the first half trying to contain Payne and Dawson with Ekey and Colbert, will Michigan State push out to a 25 point lead or a 30 point lead? Bertrand, Abrams, and Egwu… and then not a single experienced Big Ten player. Shades of 1998/99.

Actually, that might be a good comparison. 1998/99 was a complete overhaul too. That team returned Sergio McClain, Victor Chukwudebe, and pretty much nothing else. We relied on freshman Cory Bradford to provide the scoring, with juco transfer Cleotis Brown and Sergio trying to provide the rest. From a 5-seed the year before to 14-18.

But then it all turned around in one season. Marcus Griffin transferred in from Juco. Frank Williams was eligible after sitting out because of Prop 48. Brian Cook arrived as a freshman. And so that team went from 5-seed to 14-18 and then a 4-seed. Everyone returned, the freshmen got significantly better, we added Cook and Griffen, and suddenly we’re right back up there.

Add two impact freshmen (like that team added Frankie and Cook), and I think we can do the same in 2014/15. From 7-seed to no tournament and right back to competitive team in the Big Ten hunt. Hill and Nunn become sophomores, senior leadership from Abrams, Egwu, and Rice, plus Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul become eligible. Add one of our big targets, and suddenly 2014/15 looks really good.

But between here and there, it might be ugly for the next 420 days. This program is in a complete and total rebuild right now. As it should be.

Updated RSCI

Have you ever been to a wedding, and it’s best man/maid of honor toast time, and one of them starts with “when I thought about what I was going to say today…”, and you roll your eyes and mumble “then just say it”? Just me? Well, this is a confession of sorts. I’ve realized that “as you know”, and its cousin “as you’ve heard me say before”, are my “when I thought about what I was going to say today…” If I went back through the last four years of posts, it’s a good bet that I’ve started at least two dozen posts with

As you’ve heard me say before, I’m an RSCI junkie. RSCI stands for Recruiting Services Consensus Index, and it’s just a simple website maintained by some anonymous guy. He takes all of the college basketball top-100 lists, averages them out, and comes up with a consensus top-100 list. So simple, so brilliant. And although recruiting is obviously a very inexact science, it’s a fairly accurate predictor of future college basketball stardom.

I look at the RSCI lists like this: The top 30 are almost always high-impact college players. The next 30 are usually very important players for the program (and sometimes more important because they stick around for multiple years), and the bottom 40 are somewhat of a crapshoot (but still, on average, significantly more likely to make an impact than players outside the top-100). Busts are fairly common in the bottom 40. It’s rare to have a bust in the middle 30, and extremely rare to have a top-30 bust.

One other thing before getting to the numbers – always remember the Tyler Griffey Rule. Griffey was ranked #68 on the pre-summer (before the AAU season) RSCI for 2009. But Griffey chose not to play AAU that summer, instead attending some skills camps and working with a personal trainer. So when the lists came out at the end of the summer, Griffey fell from #68 to #92. The reason? Nobody saw him play basketball. Out of sight, out of mind. The gurus ranked the kids they had been watching, and Griffey wasn’t one of them.

By the time the final RSCI came out the following spring, Griffey wasn’t even in the top-100. Was this because of poor performances at the Peach Jam or some other big summer event? Maybe, I guess, if one of the gurus was at a skills camp or something (highly doubtful). Mostly, it’s just because he wasn’t on anyone’s radar, so the kids who perform well move up and the kids who don’t play at all, well, tumble.

I bring that up because Malcolm Hill is partially Tyler Griffey Rule on this list. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, the numbers.

On the post-summer RSCI back in September, for our 2013 recruits, Kendrick Nunn was #51, Malcolm Hill was #66, and Austin Colbert was #98. On this final RSCI, Nunn is #57, Hill is #70, and Colbert is no longer on the list. If there had been a pre-summer RSCI last spring, I’d guess that Hill would have been somewhere around #60 (as I recall, he was ranked around #45 on one list and in the 50′s on a few others). But, partial Tyler Griffey Rule, Hill was hospitalized with a blood clot last summer, missed three months of basketball, and fell a bit on most of the rankings. Still, given that one of the lists doesn’t even put Hill in the top-100, I’d say 70 is probably an accurate placement.

Where does this put Nunn and Hill when compared to past recruit rankings? Well, the RSCI has been around since 1998, and here are all of our ranked players since then:

#19 Dee Brown
#20 Brian Cook
#21 Frank Williams
#24 Jereme Richmond
#28 Richard McBride
#29 Meyers Leonard
#35 DJ Richardson
#36 Alex Legion
#48 Deron Williams
#49 Brandon Paul
#49 Brian Carlwell
#53 Brian Randle
#57 Kendrick Nunn
#62 Roger Powell
#65 Mike Shaw
#66 Myke Henry
#69 Tracy Abrams
#70 Malcolm Hill
#71 Demitri McCamey
#77 Shaun Pruitt
#77 Nick Smith
#78 James Augustine
#78 Nnanna Egwu
#86 Aaron Spears

All in all, that’s a pretty accurate list. Since the 1998 recruiting class, that’s pretty much every high-impact Illini player. The only big omissions would be Luther (a late bloomer in high school who was never ranked by anyone) and maybe the glue guys from the 2001 team like Arch and Lucas. Beyond that, most of our leading scorers, leading rebounders, etc. are all RSCI guys.

And looking back at the “top 30, next 30, final 40″ rule, I’d say it holds pretty well. Jereme Richmond flamed out for personal reasons, but I’d say the other top-30 guys were all high impact (Rich McBride the only kind-of exception). The 30-60 group has the criminally under-ranked Deron Williams, but also a bust like Alex Legion. And the final 40 is a bit of a crapshoot. Guys who never made it (Mike Shaw, Aaron Spears), and guys who really excelled (Augustine, McCamey).

Compare their relative positions, and I guess we can say that we expect Hill’s career to be somewhere between Abrams and McCamey (I’ll take it), and Nunn would be somewhere between Roger Powell and Brian Randle (again, sold). Of course, if either one of them wanted to exceed their ranking Deron Williams-style, I won’t complain. Just please no Aaron Spearsing.

Also of note: we’re on the 2014 class now, so that’s 17 years of the RSCI, and Dee is our highest ranked player at #19. That’s kinda crazy that we’ve never had anyone in the top-18.  If Self had stayed, we would have landed Charlie Villanueva, but he was only #18, one spot ahead of where Dee was ranked in 2002. Eric Gordon was #3 in 2007, but I think he went to Indiana or something.

That’s why, despite my absolute trust in Groce as a recruiter, I just can’t see Cliff Alexander or JaQuan Lyle or Leron Black picking Illinois. They’d only be, you know, our best recruit in 17 years. When you reach “none of these recruits were born the last time we landed a top-18 kid” territory, you begin to realize that it might just happen once every 20 years.  Of course, I’ve already claimed that Charles Matthews will end up an Illini, and he’ll be top-10 in 2015, so I guess I’m already on the record claiming that Dee’s high water mark will be eclipsed.

Where do our recruits stack up with the Big Ten? Here’s the complete list of RSCI top-100 players headed to the B1G:

Noah Vonleh (IU) #8
Zak Irvin (Michigan) #29
Derrick Watson (Michigan) #44
Roddy Peters (Maryland) #46
Troy Williams (IU) #51
Kendrick Nunn (Illinois) #57
Stanford Robinson (IU) #61
Kendall Stephens (Purdue) #63
Marc Loving (tOSU) #66
Malcolm Hill (Illinois) #70
Luke Fischer (IU) #71
Kameron Williams (tOSU) #76
Bronson Koenig (Wisc) #79
Bryson Scott (Purdue) #84

So if you’re keeping score at home, 2013 RSCI recruits:

Indiana (4 – #8, #51, #61, and #71)
Michigan (2 – #28 and #44)
Illinois (2 – #57 and #70)
Ohio State (2 – #66 and #76)
Purdue (2 – #63 and #84)
Maryland (1 – #46)
Wisconsin (1 – #79)
Michigan State (0)
Northwestern (0)
Penn State (0)
Nebraska (0)
Minnesota (0)
Rutgers (0)
Iowa (0)

All in all, given five months to work with, a fairly impressive class for Groce. Missed on the biggest target (Demetrius Jackson, who ended up #33), but landed Nunn, landed Colbert (who just missed this list), and found some other key pieces, including transfers like Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul.

Now, it’s time to land a big fish. And the way it’s shaping up, the big fish we’re chasing would all be the highest ranked RSCI recruit in Illini history. When I think about what it would mean to me to land the best recruit in 17 years….

Ekey To Illinois

Eighteen days ago, Ibby Djimde, Mike Shaw, and Devin Langford all announced that they were transferring out of the program in search of playing time, leaving us with three open scholarships for the 2013/14 season. Eighteen days later, we’re down to one open scholarship.

Friday night, Seton Hall sophomore Aaron Cosby picked Illinois as his transfer destination. Last night, Illinois State fifth year senior Jon Ekey announced he was going to play his final season at Illinois. As a sophomore, Cosby will have to sit out next season and then will have two seasons remaining. As a fifth year transfer, Ekey will be eligible to play immediately.

The best part about a fifth-year like Ekey – it doesn’t change our recruiting at all. Cosby takes away one scholarship that could have been used on a 2014 kid (not that I’m complaining, Cosby’s numbers at Seton Hall suggest he’ll be better than any 2014 guard we could bring in not named JaQuon Lyle). Ekey takes up a vacant scholarship next year… and then we can still use it on a 2014 kid (like Lyle!). In that sense, there is absolutely zero risk here. Even if he plays seven minutes the entire season and scores one single point, that’s still better than an open scholarship for the season.

And he fits a need, too. Ekey is a 6′-7″ forward in the Tyler Griffey stretch four mold. He’s not a banger, he won’t show you many post moves, but he will set a high screen and then pop for the three. And he had other suitors, too. According to Marcus Jackson, he was contacted by Purdue, Creighton, Ga. Tech, Boston College and Nevada (among others) after he received his release from Illinois State. That’s decent company to beat for his one year.

But I can also give you a personal account. I’ve watched Ekey play twice. Once was what we all remember him from – our game against Illinois State in the Cancun tournament in November of 2011, and the other was the MVC Tournament final I attended in March of 2012. He scored 14 points in the Cancun game (three of six from long range), grabbed six boards, and blocked three shots. And that was a game we almost lost. We were up two, and ISU shot a three pointer with two seconds left but missed. We grabbed the rebound with a second left, were fouled, and won the game 63-59.

Ekey played a better game in the MVC tournament final I attended. Tim Jankovic used him exactly like Groce used Griffey – high screens and three pointers. In fact, that’s the only shots he attempted in that MVC Final – he was four for six from three with three more blocks. As I remember the game – a heartbreaking overtime loss to Creighton that kept ISU from gaining that elusive tournament bid – Ekey didn’t really stick out on the defensive end but aggravated the Creighton fans in front of me when he kept hitting threes.

Now, I know where your thoughts go. It’s generally one of these two things:

“We brought in Marcus Arnold from ISU, and he never matched his MVC production in the B1G.”

and/or

“We brought in Sam Maniscalco as a 5th-year transfer from the MVC – and he never matched his MVC production in the B1G.”

So no, I don’t expect 14 points and a bunch of threes from Ekey every time out next year. Not even close. His numbers all fell off last year at ISU (new system under Dan Muller was less pick-y and pop-y), so expecting him to step in and maybe seamlessly replace Griffey is a bit ridiculous. It will be a big adjustment for him in switching to the Big Ten – it will be a big adjustment for Rayvonte Rice, too, but he arrives with much better MVC numbers – so expecting a lot is probably foolish.

But I think I’ve settled here: If Cosby were Ekey and Ekey were Cosby, I’d be a bit concerned. An MVC kid who might struggle to adjust taking up a scholarship for three years and a Big East kid who can score that will only be here for one. But switch them, and I’m happy. Cosby is the “he’ll have to step in and seamlessly replaced Bertrand in 2014, and he probably has the scoring prowess to do just that and more”, and Ekey is “we’ll need to bring the freshmen bigs like Colbert and Morgan along slowly, because all freshmen bigs come along slowly, and Ekey gives us the opportunity to do that by backing up Henry at the four for a year.”

Another way to look at it. Here’s the tradeoff we’ve made:

Three more years of Devin Langford traded for two years of Aaron Cosby.
Two more years of Mike Shaw traded for one year of Jon Ekey and an open 2014 scholarship.
Two more years of Ibby Djimde traded for an open 2014 scholarship.

Add another 5th year transfer alongside Ekey (for the Djimde spot), maybe, say, a five that can back up Egwu, and suddenly next year looks a lot different. Instead of having to rely completely on the freshmen to fill every bench role, there are some experienced options that give the freshmen a chance to get their feet wet. Hmmm… let’s pause and look at that:

PG: Abrams, backed up by Tate
SG: Rice, backed up by Nunn
WG: Bertrand, backed up by Hill
F: Henry, backed up by Ekey
C: Egwu, backed up by Morgan/Colbert

And then that entire team returns for 2014/15, only subbing in Cosby for Bertrand (and maybe adding a few impact freshmen).

So yes, adding Ekey is a good thing. More than likely, he’s only our 6th or 7th leading scorer, so it’s not like we added Kenny Battle last night. But he gives us experienced minutes off the bench, gives our freshmen time to ease their way in, and maybe even hits a few Jack Ingram-like dagger three pointers. He also shot .821 from the free throw line last season, so having a guy like that late in games is always a plus.

Welcome, Jon. You made the right choice. Having a grad degree from Illinois is never a bad thing. And hitting a few threes against Missouri isn’t either.