Fall Visits

Feels like 1991 up in here.  In those days, back when and you’d rush back to your dorm room after class to watch Saved By The Bell on TBS at 3:00 (just me?), you followed basketball recruiting through fall visits.  That’s when you knew a player was interested in your school, and when he verballed, you found out in the newspaper or on the evening news.  No, really, that’s what we did. [Read more...]

Bully Pulpit

It’s a dangerous thing. You make a statement on your blog, and then people respond that statement through email or Twitter, and then you have this ability to respond in public while they’re restricted to private conversation. Yes, they can maybe respond in the comments section, but really, a voice gives you the ability to set an agenda.  I try to avoid that, generally. [Read more...]

I Mean, How??

Once I hit age 40 (eighteen months ago), I started feeling all these dad emotions.  Not dad emotions as in fatherhood, but dad emotions as in “pull up a chair and let me tell you how things were”.  It’s weird.  41 is still young, right?  Why, when I hear great basketball recruiting news, is my go-to reaction “sit here, kids, and let Uncle Robert tell you how things used to be”? [Read more...]

8-4-2

Remember 4-2-1? Last summer, I wrote about my expectations for the 2014 basketball recruiting class. With Michael Finke already on board, we only had one more scholarship to give. So I wanted to shoot for the moon. Concentrate on four blue chip recruits, get two of them on campus for a visit, and get one of them to sign in November.

[Read more...]

Big Recruiting Summer

It hit me yesterday that the next six months are so big for the basketball program.  The two (or three) players that John Groce lands this summer will define our trajectory.  Will we add “solid contributors” to the two four-stars we’ve already landed (DJ Williams and Aaron Jordan), or will we add superstars?

And the same goes for football.  [Read more...]

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.

471cruises

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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