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:
Taking a official visit to U of I oct 26 #TurnUp
— Cliff Alexander (@humblekid11) September 13, 2013
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.