Ride the Wave

Has the Jeremiah Tilmon hysteria worn off yet, now that we’re over a week post-commitment? No? Good. Because the ripple effect from the big man’s decision is still reverberating throughout the college hoops recruiting landscape during its holiest month of the year. [Read more…]

Looks Like University Of Illinois – Jeremiah Tilmon

We needed a big man. We needed a recruiting win. We needed some momentum. Dammit, we needed something good to happen for once. And as I checked my phone on the 7th tee yesterday, huh, suddenly five texts from five different people. Wonder what might have happened. [Read more…]

Boom

There it is. After years of pursuit and months of intensifying whispers surrounding his recruitment, five-star forward Jeremiah Tilmon has officially announced his commitment to play for John Groce and the University of Illinois. This is no time to try and contain your excitement, folks. This is a breakthrough as big as Tilmon’s towering presence in the post. [Read more…]

The Wild Card

On Thursday, I sat down with Illinois redshirt freshman Kipper Nichols following a team photoshoot. Nichols is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward from St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, where he averaged 18.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game as an upperclassman. He originally signed with Tulane but transferred to Illinois last November. Due to the unusual timing of his transfer, the NCAA has yet to determine if Nichols will be able to play right away this season or sit out until the end of first semester. To fans and media, he represents perhaps the biggest unknown on the 2016-17 team. [Read more…]

July

The first time I was truly exposed to the circus that is college basketball recruiting was July 2011, the summer before my senior year of high school. Upon arrival at York High School in Elmhurst for a summer AAU tournament, my teammates and I were whisked into a classroom to watch a video that detailed which mundane NCAA rules we weren’t allowed to break during our participation in the weekend’s event. Once we finally got inside their fieldhouse, I immediately recognized Tom Izzo and Bruce Weber as they presumably watched their targets stay true to the travel ball template of scoring lots of points and playing minimal defense. [Read more…]

Looks Promising, But…

We’re getting into late June, which signals a couple of developments regarding John Groce’s fifth team at Illinois. First, it’s back to business as the complete 2016-17 squad is now on campus for the first time to participate in summer workouts. But even more intriguing was Monday’s release of the Illini’s conference opponents in 2017. [Read more…]

Excuse-Free

Our slate of Big Ten games was released today.  Not the schedule – that’s probably a month or two away – but the home & away games that will make up our 18 game Big Ten schedule.  And the theme of this offseason continues: Tracy and Big Mike get their 6th-year waivers, Leron returns, and now an easy schedule… there’s absolutely no excuse to not win a lot of games. [Read more…]

Finke Interview Pt. 2

On Monday, June 13, I sat down with a trio of Finkes after a Champaign Central open gym session: Jeff, who played football (1987-1990) and basketball (1987) at Illinois and now is the head coach at Champaign Central; Jeff’s son Michael, a Champaign Centennial product who just wrapped up his redshirt freshman season at Illinois; and Michael’s brother Tim, an incoming junior playing for his dad at Central—and a priority for John Groce as a top-50 prospect in the class of 2018. Groce offered Finke a scholarship in July of 2015.

As a 6’6″, 195-pound wing, Tim averaged 20.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game as a sophomore at Central, including hitting 76/196 (38.8%) of his 3-point attempts.

This is part 2 of the interview from June 13. Part 1 can be found here:

AR to Tim: Does you feel Illinois has a different type of pull when recruiting you, since there’s such a strong connection with your family? Or do you try and detach yourself emotionally from things like that when considering each school?

Tim: It’s a unique opportunity, you know, to be living (and from) Champaign my whole life. But, at the end of the day I’m going to go to the college that’s the right fit for me, and I don’t even know what that is yet. You know, I can’t look at Illinois and be like, ‘I want to go there,’ or look at Notre Dame and be like, ‘I want to go there,’ or whatever schools or offers I have right now. I can’t say that right now, just because I don’t know where I want (to go) yet. But I’m really going to be looking into that here shortly.

AR: Mike committed during his junior season in high school. Could you envision yourself committing that early in the process, or do you think you’ll wait until your senior year of basketball?

Tim: I think I’ll find that out pretty soon with June 15 (contact period) coming up. We’ll see. I’ve got to take visits and get a feel for what I like.

Jeff: Yeah I think for him, it’s really just, work on getting better every day, resting your body, recovering. And then get through July and see which schools are really interested. The tough part about committing early, especially for Tim, and using Illinois as the example: They’re obviously pretty set now. Kids are in school, they started today, and we didn’t know a few weeks ago what their 2016 class was going to look like, or what their ‘17s are gonna look like. I mean, if you really look at their scholarship chart today, technically they don’t really have any ’18 scholarships available.

And so it’s really a matter of knowing — not only at Illinois, but everywhere — who’s gonna be there when Tim gets there. Not only their system, but personnel-wise. Will it be a good opportunity to play? Is one of those questions of the five, ‘I want to play right away?’ ‘I want to play high major?’ or what it’s going to be. So it’s too early.

AR: I know college coaches are restricted in their communication with recruits, but do you and Coach Groce talk often? Do you guys speak more as fellow parents, fellow coaches, or a mix of both?

Jeff: You know, it’s interesting, because not only are the student-athletes restricted, parents are restricted. So June 15 is when parents’ phones can (be reached) too. But because I’m a high school head coach, there’s a loophole. So I talk to a lot of head coaches every week. I probably have heard from at least eight today, including Illinois.

So we talk, when Coach Groce and I talk, we probably talk more about the current team. And we don’t talk all that often, but he talks about Tim, he talks about the team, he talks about a little bit of both. So it’s unique.

AR: What does your family like about how Groce and his staff have handled Mike as a player and as a person these last few years?

Jeff: Coach Groce and his whole staff are just good people. They love basketball, they love Michael and they love all their kids. So having that family environment has been nice, and we’ve been able to see it firsthand. That’s probably one of the biggest things.

But with Michael, our commitment to him when he went to Illinois, we really wanted for him to feel like he was four hours away. Like he was in Madison, or Iowa City, or wherever. So we didn’t go see him. I watched the clinic his redshirt year. I didn’t really go to many practices, and after October, I didn’t watch until last August. So I went 10 months without stepping into Ubben. So really, I haven’t taken advantage of being a local parent, or a local coach. I’ve tried to let Michael have a college experience, which I think has been nice for him. Although he and Malcolm (Hill) do come over and eat quite a bit, especially in the summer.

AR (to Michael): Describe your relationship with Coach Groce, and how it feels to be a member of his program.

Michael: Yeah, it’s great. Coach Groce is a really good people person. He gets to know all his players, and he’s even getting better with that, just talking a lot. It’s more than just basketball. He really just cares about you and wants to know how your life is going, how grades are going, how your family’s doing and all that. So he’s a really good coach and I think I’m speaking for all of us when I say that we love playing for him.

AR: With all the turmoil and losing in the last couple of years, what’s the confidence level in the locker room right now? How have you been able to stay positive?

Michael: We’re just looking ahead to a brighter future. We have Big Mike (Thorne) coming back, Tracy (Abrams) coming back, and we feel really good about this year. We’re going to be a really old team with a lot of experience. Our first workouts were today, I thought that went really well, so just looking at it one step at a time and we can’t wait for the first game.

AR to Tim: (Tim is currently ranked No. 37 in ESPN’s Top 60 in the class of 2018) Do you pay attention to rankings at all?

Tim: I don’t pay attention to rankings. Just work out every day and get better and time will tell.

AR: Could you honestly even tell me what you’re ranked right now?

Tim: (Laughing) No, I don’t pay attention.

AR: Who wins in 1-on-1 if we roll the ball out on the court and you play right now?

Michael: Definitely me. He can’t guard me at all, I’ll just post him up all day.

Tim: I did win the last game…

Michael: Did you? No…

Tim: (Brother Nick), me and you.

Michael: Aw, we played 21.

AR: Dad, what do you think?

Jeff: I’m staying out of it. They would not beat me, that I can assure you. Nick and Tim have never beaten me, just for the record. Michael’s only beaten me one time, but we haven’t played in years.

AR: Which college or NBA player would you compare yourselves to, in terms of style of play?

Michael: I like Chandler Parsons’ game a little bit. Bigger guy that can shoot. He might be a little more athletic than me, but he can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim and shoot it, so I like watching him play.

Tim: I think I try to move off the ball like JJ Redick, but I want to be sort of like Gordon Hayward.

AR: That’s all I got, thanks for taking the time, guys.

According to Jeff, Tim picked up three more offers from Marquette, Iowa State and Oregon when his phone started buzzing at midnight on June 15. He now holds 12 total offers. These 23 schools contacted Tim on June 15:

Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Gonzaga, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Kansas State, Marquette, Michigan, Missouri, NC State, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Purdue, St. Louis, Stanford, Tulsa, USC, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.

With a fluctuating roster due to athletes with commitments to multiple sports, Champaign Central has gone 12-2 throughout their summer schedule so far. If anyone wants to catch the Maroons and Finkes in action, Central will be at Chatham-Glenwood Friday, June 17 and Saturday, June 18. They’ll also play in Mahomet’s summer league on Tuesday, June 21 and wrap up their summer slate at Eastern Illinois on June 24 and 25.

Finke Interview Pt. 1

On Monday, June 13, I sat down with a trio of Finkes after a Champaign Central open gym session: Jeff, who played football (1987-1990) and basketball (1987) at Illinois and is now the head coach at Champaign Central; Jeff’s son Michael, a Champaign Centennial product who just wrapped up his redshirt freshman season at Illinois; and Michael’s brother Tim, an incoming junior playing for his dad at Central—and a priority for John Groce as a top-50 prospect in the class of 2018. Groce offered Finke a scholarship in July of 2015. [Read more…]

Windows

Here we are on June 10, and Illinois basketball’s most coveted prizes in the class of 2017 remain uncommitted. Jeremiah Tilmon and Jordan Goodwin are the Metro-East-bred cornerstones of a potential Illini hoops turnaround, but at this point no one seems confident they’ll follow the Orange Brick Road to Champaign. [Read more…]