Looks Like University Of Illinois – Dre Brown

I love it when a plan comes together.

In December, when writing my “10 Names You’ll Learn In 2014″ post for New Years Eve, my choice for the football name to watch was easy.  We really, really need a versatile tailback in this class.  There’s a really, really versatile tailback in DeKalb.  Seemed like a perfect fit, so my Name To Watch in football recruiting was Dre Brown.  Had to have him.

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Looks Like University Of Illinois – Chris James

Yes, really. It took me 15 days to do this LLUOI post.  In fact, until someone reminded me in the comments the other day, I completely forgot that I hadn’t done one.  He verballed the day before Signing Day, I wrote him up in the Signing Day post, and I completely forgot to LLUOI him.  But I committed to Tom Cruise each and every Illini football and basketball recruit from here until eternity, so better late than never.

And let me take a moment to recap LLUOI, because I’m always worried that people look at it like stars (i.e, four Tom Cruises equals a four-star player).  That’s not the case at all.  The scale of Tom Cruises goes from .5 cruises to five full cruises.  There’s never been a five Cruiser, and there might not be for years.  Five cruises is reserved for a “best recruit in a generation” recruit.  Cliff would have received five Tom Cruises.  Arrelious Benn and Martez Wilson are the only Illini players in the last decade – football or basketball – who would have received five Cruises.  You have to beat every school in the country to get five Cruises.

Hey, while we’re recapping, this is a good time to describe why Tom Cruises again for those who are new to this site.  There’s the quote in Risky Business where Tom Cruise, after finding out he’s “not Ivy League material”, puts on his shades, stands up, and says “looks like University Of Illinois”.    So each recruit receives an LLUOI post and a Tom Cruise rating.

And it’s a hard thing to do.  There’s a reason there’s no such thing as a one-star recruit (and the tw0-star recruit appears to be a dying breed).  Nobody wants to be the guy who gives some player one star.  What if his mom reads it?  Just give them three, four, or five.

But for me, a scale with only three options isn’t satisfying.  Give me a scale that means something.  I want a scale with 10 options so that fans reading this site can see whether my take on a certain recruit is that he’s a seven or a three.  If someone gets ten Tom Cruises, they’re a near lock to play the sport professionally.  If someone gets half a Cruise, I don’t see much potential for that player to have much of a college career.  (No half-Cruise players yet either, I should mention. In the last ten years, the only potential half-Cruiser I can think of was that Ron Turner offensive lineman who picked us over Elon College and only lasted one year.)

OK, Chris James.  I see James as a Plan B recruit, similar to James Crawford and Jaylen Dunlap last year.  We lost Reon Dawson to Michigan, so we offered Jaylen Dunlap.  This isn’t really an insult or anything – the kids are fully aware of this.  Kids going to Ohio State are fully aware of this.  “We’re looking at four cornerbacks, you’re one of them, we have to see what some others do first before we can talk scholarship”.  Happens all the time in college football.

I think that’s what happened with Chris James.  We had Tyree Stone-Davis verballed, and even tried to enroll him early, but he couldn’t get past admissions.  And given that his brother signed on Signing Day and Tyree did not, it’s apparent he just won’t be able to get into school.  So we needed another defensive back, and James was that guy.  We brought him in for a visit the final weekend, offered him, and he verballed.

I should note again – I really like it that Beckman does this.  Zook didn’t have a “chart” like that (at least none that anyone could decipher).  If he lost a recruit, I’m pretty sure he just wanted to land “next best available”, positions be damned.  Certain positions were prioritized, but I never saw a pattern of “if we can’t get Dondi Kirby into school, here are the three lower-level safeties we add to replace him.”

Because James is a lower level recruit, there’s not much info out there on him (nor film).  He had an offer from Iowa State, but all of the articles about that are from back in the summer, so I’m not certain of Iowa State’s interest in him this fall.  Most other articles I could find said things like “going to the TCU camp and hoping for an offer” and things like that, but nothing materialized.  Every article about his high school focused on his high school teammate, Deionte Thompson, who is going to Alabama.

So I’m left to speak in generalities.  Texas, that’s good.  Solid program with a lot of history, that’s good.  I always think of kids from solid programs in Texas as having already redshirted – they’ve learned a lot more about football than a kid from Nebraska.  James is also a track athlete (found lots of film of him running in 4×200 relays), and was mostly a running back in high school.

That’s the type of kid who will be a redshirt lock.  Bring him in, test him a few places, anchor him at free safety, and then give him a few years to learn everything about the position.  Then see what you have in 2017.

But for Tom Cruises, this is a kid I have to give one Cruise.  As most know, I’m a percentages guy.  Sign a five-star, and there’s a 79% chance you’ve signed a solid college contributor.  Sign a three-star, and there’s a 42% chance.  Sign a kid who is off the radar, camped a few places with no offers, and was a plan B that you added on signing day, and there’s only a 14% chance.  That’s just how the percentages work.

Chris James. One Tom Cruise.  (And any time I give a kid one Tom Cruise I feel obligated to add this tag: go prove me wrong, kid.)


Looks Like University Of Illinois – Jimmy Fitzgerald

The most important recruiting class in a very long time has begun.

I’ll start by telling you why, and then I’ll tell you what I know about Jimmy Fitzgerald, and then we’ll get to Tom Cruises.

The 2012 was a bit of a throwaway as it always is in the first year for any coaching staff.  You try to keep the guys the other coach had recruited, you have six weeks to find some recruits, and you have to do all of that without knowing any of the local high school coaches yet.  So you can’t really judge Tim Beckman’s recruiting based on that kind of class (although he did surprisingly well in landing future starters like Teko Powell and TJ Neal and Mason Monheim and others during those six weeks).

The 2013 class, then, was extremely important.  And Beckman/Golesh pulled in a decent haul.  Impact players like Bailey, Mosely, and Chunky, a several four-stars, and ranked in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten – Rivals and ESPN had that class 7th, ahead of schools like Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin (Andersen throwaway transition class) in the Rivals rankings.  2014 was important, but is a small class + a “juco need” class (and adding jucos will never create a lot of rankings buzz).  We’re only adding ten high school players on Wednesday because we traded the need for future depth for the need for immediate depth (and because we only had 10 seniors last year.  That’s good for next year (really good when you consider some of the defensive linemen we landed), but probably not good for the long term development of the program.

Which means the 2015 class is probably up there with 2006 in terms of “we must land a solid class”.  I really do believe that the 2012 and 2013 class, as well as the jucos in the 2014 class, provide adequate Big Ten talent for the next two seasons, given the roster situation the Beckman’s coaching staff inherited.  We’re slowly getting to the point where the depth chart will be mostly upperclassmen.  But after those players graduate, with only 10 high school players in this class, we have to have depth built in behind them.  That’s all on this class.

And it’s off to a solid start.  3-star local QB Jimmy Fitzgerald is now on board (check out this link for Matt Wettersten’s interview with Fitzgerald on WCIA).  Let’s start with rankings.  It’s more than a year from when he can sign, so Scout and ESPN haven’t rated him yet, but Rivals has him as a 3-star and the #10 player in the state, and 24/7 has him as a 3-star and the #11 player in the state.  Considering that in the 2014, our highest-ranked in-state player was #20 on Rivals and #25 on 24/7, then yes, this is an improvement over the last class.  Landing those top 30 in-state players needs to be our lifeblood, so this is a good start.

(Note: he picked Illinois, so don’t expect him to stay at #10 in the state. By this time next year, he’s maybe #17 or something.  The 23rd rated player based on film review will pick Nebraska, and suddenly that player will find themselves at #10 and Fitzgerald will slide down.  It’s just how this works.  And I can’t blame the recruiting sites for handling things that way.  I’d do the same.)

When watching film on Fitzgerald, the thing that sticks out to me is putting air under the ball at the right times.  You know that pass play where three receivers drag right while the tight end, comes from the right side of the line and angles for a spot 15 yards down the left sideline?  Many QB’s try to zip that ball in there when the right call is to float it (the dragging receivers have vacated the corner and the safety, so it’s just a one-on-one with a linebacker).  Based on his junior film, Fitzgerald understands that you can float that pass a little bit and place it over the tight end’s shoulder. That’s the kind of thing Bill Cubit loves.

As far as arm strength, I’d say that the quarterback in this class (Chayce Crouch) has a much stronger arm.  Interestingly, Rivals rates Crouch the #23 quarterback in this class, and Rivals rates Fitzgerald the #23 quarterback in the 2015 class.  So looking down the road a bit, I’d say that we have a three year battle between Lunt and Bailey, and then in 2017, it’s redshirt junior Crouch vs. redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald vs. the quarterback in the 2016 class for the starting job.

The other thing that jumps off the film is that he looks pretty athletic.  Which is good not only for this offense, but also for that QB battle. I think Crouch is a one position player, but I think Fitzgerald could play several spots.  So if Crouch does win the job, we might see Fitzgerald at, say, tight end or something (like Matt LaCosse, who was also a high school quarterback).

OK, Tom Cruises.  This one is really straightforward for me.  A solid 3 Tom Cruises.  2.5 is the median, and this kid is a little better than the median to me.  The only way he could stretch that to a 3.5 Cruise would be to have film like 2014 RB recruit Matt Domer (I gave Domer 3.5 Cruises, right?).  And Fitzgerald’s film isn’t at that level.  So a solid, respectable three Cruises it is.


Looks Like University Of Illinois – Aaron Jordan

Let’s just call this the Penn State postgame post. For actual, you know, game discussion, check out Brumby’s thoughts here.  For now, though, here’s my postgame timeline:

We dribble out the final 20 seconds and I wait long enough to see the John Groce/Pat Chambers handshake to see if there’s any, you know, acknowledgement of the extracurriculars. It’s a longer handshake than normal, but everything seems copacetic so I turn off the TV and head out the door. My wife had left to drive across town for a quick “our kitchen remodel is finally done come see” thing, and I was watching the rest of the game before joining her.

The kitchen was great. I head to the den with the Oklahoma State husband to watch some Chiefs/Colts while the wives spin the lazy susan. I offer condolences after his loss to Miznoz last night (he watched it at a local BWW with eight Oklahoma State fans and 336 Miznoz fans).

(What is this post? Dear Diary?)

We’re running late for our dinner party. We get back home, change in two minutes, and head back out the door and off to the party. Actually, it wasn’t the party yet – it was a dinnerpartypreparty. Meet another couple for drinks one hour before the dinner party. You now know everything I do on random Saturdays in January. There’s a point. I’ll get to it.

We go to the dinner party. I eat appetizers. I eat more appetizers. I ruin my meal with appetizers. I head to the restroom and pull my phone out of my pocket for the first time in nearly four hours. I flip through my Twitter mentions and see that someone has tweeted Tom Cruise’s face to me. Wait… does that mean…

I check around and yes – Aaron Jordan to Illinois. And I immediately wonder: when is the next time I’ll go four hours without knowing we landed a recruit? Is it sad that I’ll probably never go four hours again? Or is it just 2014?

So I start listing other recruiting announcements on Twitter. When Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin chose Illinois in the fall of 1996 (for you youngins, it was a huge, huge moment for the young Lon Kruger regime), I was in my mom’s kitchen watching the local news. TThey announced that Sergio and Marcus had picked Illinois, and I went nuts. In my 30+ years of Illini fandom, that was probably our biggest “we’re BACK” moment.

The highest ranked recruit to choose Illinois while I was in school was Richard Keene. He was a McDonald’s All American, ranked in the top 15 players in the nation, and down to Duke or Illinois. We were on probation, and we couldn’t recruit off campus, so our only hope was that his visit to Champaign was better than all of his interactions with Duke. It was, and during the Illinois football game at Iowa in the fall of 1991, they scrolled “Richard Keene has chosen to play at Illinois” across the bottom of the screen. Forbes 2 South went nuts.

Going back earlier than that, I remember getting my recruiting news from magazines like Street and Smith’s. I’d flip to the recruiting page and see which guys on the list had chosen Illinois. Can you imagine? Waiting months to find out who is headed to your school?

This all changed with the internet, of course. The first recruitment I remember following online? BYU guard Robbie Reid was transferring in 1997, and he was deciding between Illinois and Michigan. He picked Michigan, and I vented my anger on the Big Ten Fan Forums.

Now, of course, we find out instantly. I’d guess that half the people at the game today heard about the verbal in some way before they got home. Twitter tells us the moment it’s announced. One flip through the phone and you have all the necessary information. Or, in my case, one flip through the phone four hours after it happened.

So let’s talk Jordan. First, he fills a huge need. HUGE need. He’s a shooter, and we really need shooters. This current team is shooting .319 from long range, and while we’re still finding other ways to score, we really needed to add a shooter. Preferably a shooter that was going to destroy us on the road in the Big Ten had he chosen Indiana or Wisconsin or Purdue. That’s Aaron Jordan.

Another bit of good news for our shooting woes: Aaron Cosby is eligible next year. So you can see how our shooting is setting up in the future. To get back to the days where all of Assembly Hall (crap, State Farm Center) leans forward and you can hear the “eeeee” of 15,000 people saying “threeeeee” when the ball reaches the hands of a Luther Head or a Cory Bradford, we’ve needed to add shooters. And now we’ll have Cosby in 14/15, Cosby with Jordan as his understudy in 15/16, and then three years of Jordan being our shooter.

He’s not just a shooter, of course. He’s a pretty solid athlete, decent handles, good length and all of that. In time, he might turn into a really solid combo guard. He’s #60 on Rivals and #77 on Scout, so this is a legitimate high school guard we’ve landed. He had offers from Wisconsin and Purdue and Georgia Tech and Indiana, so he wasn’t just being pursued by the lower end programs. It looks like this kid is the real deal.

And he fits in very well with future rosters. If we look at just the John Groce recruits (not counting the transfers), here’s how the future roster lines up:

True PG: Jaylon Tate
Slashing 2: Kendrick Nunn
Shooting 2: Aaron Jordan
True 3: DJ Williams
Slashing 3/4: Malcolm Hill
Stretch 4: Michael Finke
Rebounding 4: Leron Black
Springy 4/5: Austin Colbert
Post 5: Maverick Morgan

I guess I should add Darius Paul to this because he’ll be a sophomore when he’s eligible next year, so he’ll graduate with the Nunn/Hill class. So if we add him in (springy 3/4) then the final two open scholarships (and the final two pieces to the 2016/17 puzzle when John Groce’s first recruiting class reaches their senior seasons) would be a scoring point guard (boooo Quentin Snider) and a he-puts-the-power-in-power-forward banger.

And I also think this sets us up to go big with the last two scholarships. That’s a really solid team listed above. Rivals rankings: Nunn #60, Jordan #60, Williams #45, Hill #62, Black #41, Colbert #97. So now go big. Focus on a scoring lead guard and a big big. Concentrate solely on top-50 kids. You have 10 months and two clear holes – now go find those players.

Oh, and if it’s Charles Matthews and Carlton Bragg, yes, I’ll start saying the words Final Four over and over and over and over. Seriously, if you land both of those players and get them to stick around for two years, and you add them to the team listed above, Aaron Cosby is the only senior in 2015/16. Cosby graduates and then you’d return EVERY other player in 2016/17.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Why do I do this? I played out Snider/Cliff teams and we saw how that turned out. So I’ll now take seven deep breaths. (Of course, we DO have John Groce…)

Tom Cruises. I think this is a very clear 3.75 Cruises. DJ Williams was four Cruises, and Jordan is just a notch below that, but he fills a huge team need so he gets a .25 boost. Aaron Jordan: 3.75 Tom Cruises.


Looks Like University Of Illinois – Carroll Phillips


Seriously, may I never take a FULL WEEK to LLUOI someone again.  It’s just, I mean, we added so many jucos in 24 hours, and then I had to reshuffle the three-deep to add them and analyze that, and then Braggin’ Rights, and then Griff wrote that great post, and then work and Christmas shopping and blah blah blah it’s been a week.

But I’ve now finished my half-day at work, and I have 23 minutes before I need to leave to get home to wrap the presents before leaving for my mom’s house at 2:20.  Note, I actually don’t have 23 minutes, but I just got another “LLUOI Carroll Phillips???” tweet and those are like hearing reveille to me.  Reporting for duty, sir.

I’ll start with the downer part.  Given the way it went down, it felt like Carroll Phillips was our Plan B recruit at Leo.  This might not be the case at all, and we might have even prioritized Phillips over Jonathan Johnson, but given how it went down, well, here’s how it went down.

We had verbal commitments from TSD1 and TSD2 out of Pierce Community College in Los Angeles.  At Pierce CC, they played with a defensive end named Jonathan Johnson – he was the defensive player of the year in their conference after racking up 15 sacks.  Johnson was verballed to Arizona State but the TSD brothers convinced him to visit Illinois the weekend of the 14th.

Johnson said he would decide between Illinois, Arizona State, and California on Wednesday.  I spent all day Wednesday refreshing certain sites hoping for word from Johnson and Jihad Ward.  And then news dropped that Johnson had picked… Cal.  So much for adding those 15 sacks to our team next year.

What seemed like minutes later, we learned that Carroll Phillips had picked Illinois.  Again, he might have chosen Illinois days before Johnson picked Cal, but the way the news dropped, it felt like we lost one Leo so offered our Plan B.  It’s (appeared to) happen like that in the past for us… we lost Reon Dawson to Michigan and added Jaylen Dunlap the next week (upgrade?).  We lost Joshua Jones to NC State and added James Crawford.  Is that what happened here?  Maybe.  Doesn’t matter, I guess.

Phillips fills a big need at Leo, our hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot.  We’ll have two seniors there next year (Houston Bates and DeJazz Woods), and Phillips only used up one year of eligibility at Juco, so he’ll come in as a sophomore.  So give him one year next year to get acclimated and then look for him to battle Dawaune Smoot for the starting spot in 2015 and 2016.

Phillips was originally a Cincinnati commit coming out of high school in Miami, Florida (he committed to Cincinnati to play for some defensive coordinator named Tim Banks), but he didn’t qualify.  So he ended up at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi.  He had a just-OK offer list (Cincinnati, Memphis, Temple, Southern Mississippi), but visited the weekend of the 14th (same time as Johnson) and verballed last Wednesday.

I said it a lot last week but I’ll say it again: the best part of adding all of these Juco defensive linemen is filling a gigantic recruiting gap.  Zook guys like Clint Tucker (grades, never made it to Champaign) and Darrius Caldwell (grades, left Champaign) were supposed to be “next” after Buchanan-Foster-Spence, but we didn’t have much behind them.  And we’ve had some bad luck, too.  Zook added Vontrell Williams, but he’s had multiple injury issues and has yet to play.  Beckman added Bryce Douglas, but he might be done with football after a neck injury.  Beckman added Merrick Jackson, but he didn’t qualify.  So defensive line was a very thin position.

So adding Joe Fotu, Jihad Ward, and Carroll Phillips, plus getting Paul James III back, was just huge huge huge huge HUGE.  Not only did we add bodies, we didn’t add any 18 year-old bodies that would need years to develop.  Those four should provide instant impact in 2014 and 2015.

Tom Cruises.  Film is a B+ (love that he dropped into coverage so much at his Juco), offer list a C-, and need an A-.  If he was a junior and had one more year of solid juco film, I might give him 3 Cruises, but as it stands, he might still be a year away, so put me down for 2.5 Cruises.

And I should note again, Cruises are not stars.  This is not “every player gets at least 3-stars because it sells subscriptions”.  This is .5 Cruises for a total project with no other college offers taken weeks after signing day (like DeJazz Woods) and 5 Cruises for “how did he pick ILLINOIS?” (like Martez or Rejus).

For Carroll Phillips, he’s right down the center. 2.5 Cruises.


Looks Like University Of Illinois – Jihad Ward

First off, apologies to Carroll Phillips. I usually do these LLUOI posts in order, and he verballed yesterday, and I’m leap-frogging him to discuss another recruit. I’ll get to his LLUOI tomorrow, I promise. But tonight…

I like to write these posts when I’m on a recruiting high. I had given up on Jihad Ward, seeing that he was 80% West Virginia in the crystal ball, so when I saw the tweet that he had verballed tonight, I had to sit down. One of those recruiting rushes where you start to think through all the possibilities with this guy on your team. And you ALWAYS exaggerate. That’s what so fun about recruiting. Everything is on paper, and everything looks fantastic on paper.

So here’s Jihad Ward on paper. 24/7 has him as the #2 junior college defensive lineman in the country and the #6 juco player overall (1 through 5 are going to Auburn, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Florida State, and Nebraska). ESPN has him as the #35 junior college player in the country. Rivals has him as the #64 junior college player in the country. He’s a four-star on 24/7, a high three star on ESPN (with the highest number rating of anyone in this class), and a high three-star on Rivals. He had offers from West Virginia, Tennessee, Washington, and South Florida, visited Illinois, West Virginia, and South Florida, was supposedly a heavy West Virginia lean… and then picked Illinois tonight.

If his name rings a bell, I wrote about him here before. In my post of what to watch for in the football offseason, I said the following:

I’ll settle on 17 as the number of players we sign in February. And with 14 players already verballed, that means we’re looking for three more players. Ideally, at least in my head, it’s a defensive lineman, a safety, and a defensive tackle. Dream players for those spots, I’ll say defensive end Chris Slayton from Crete-Monee, Juco defensive tackle Jihad Ward from New York, and Juco safety Devron Moore from Oklahoma.

Public service announcement: Ward is on board, and Slayton visits on January 24th.

Although Slayton is probably less of a need now that we’ve added so many defensive linemen in the past 48 hours. Actually, that’s not true. We’ve added junior college defensive linemen to fill immediate needs, but they’ll be gone after two years, so we’ll need guys like Chris Slayton who are getting ready to make an impact on the field. So yes, we need both.

But it’s just so crazy how the last 48 hours have gone down. We got a verbal from juco defensive lineman Joe Fotu, and he’s already signed and enrolled early. We got a verbal from Leo/OLB Carroll Phillips (also a Juco), and he’ll sign in February. We brought back Paul James III after he wasn’t able to enroll last summer, and he’s back on the team (he was a four star on two of the sites with offers from Alabama, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida State, etc). And now tonight we add Jihad Ward who most sites agree is the top player in this class.

It’s no secret that defensive line was the biggest issue this fall. Offensive lines, especially really solid offensive lines like Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State, simply had their way with us. We had players playing out of position, we tried the true freshmen, we had converted fullbacks and offensive guards at defensive tackle… anything we could try to stop the run. The result? 116th in the nation in run defense (similar to 2012′s 119th in total offense which sunk that season). Our response? Three juco defensive linemen in the last 48 hours plus Paul James returning to the team.

OK, so what do we know about Ward? Well, I learned from a thread on a Tennessee message board that he was a skinny high school wide receiver who went to junior college, grew to 6′-7″ and 285 lbs, and moved to the defensive line. The good news: projects like that are sometimes the best kind of recruits – raw talent with great footwork because they started as a skill position player. The bad news: he’s likely the rawest of raw talents. Watching his film, in junior college, he just runs people over because he’s so much bigger and stronger. In the Big Ten, he has so much to learn about technique.

Which means he likely won’t be instant impact next fall, at least not in September. Juco guys generally need a six game adjustment period (like Zane Petty this year) before their comfortable in the defense. So in a perfect world, we redshirt a guy like this, teach him technique, and then unleash him for two years. This isn’t a perfect world, though. This is a 116th-in-rushing-defense world. So he’ll get a crash course in Rantoul and then hopefully be ready to contribute as the season progresses. And then hopefully ready to dominate life in 2015.

The best thing this gives us: options. We can mix and match our defensive line with certain things the offense is doing. Guys like Ward might line up at 3-tech DT one play and then strongside DE the next play. We might run that 3-2-6 defense again with Bates, Ward, and Nelson as the defensive line. We might be able to use guys like Howe and Bain for obvious running downs and then insert Fotu, Ward, and Powell when we need to collapse the pocket. And there might be injuries. And some players might just bust. Which means you have to have numbers on the defensive line. As Keith Gilmore used to say, always have “a pair and a spare”.

Adding Ward gives us that. Paul James can be brought along slowly – only use him in pass rush situations and simply tell him to go get the QB. Chunky doesn’t have to play out of position and can be brought along slowly as well. Kenny Nelson won’t have to play 70-some snaps every game. These linemen give us options, and those options help us win football games. Or at least stay in football games instead of giving up 400+ on the ground.

One more thing before we get to Tom Cruises. Ward and James change the complexion of this entire class. Wes Lunt is technically in this class, so this Rantoul we’ll debut a consensus 4-star quarterback, a 4-star freshman defensive end, a 4-star juco wide receiver, and a 4-star juco defensive lineman. This crop of new players suddenly looks completely different than we thought it might.

OK, Tom Cruises. I considered four Tom Cruises for Ward. Seeing him get a 96 grade from 24/7 and a 79 grade (borderline 3-star/4-star) on ESPN tells me this is a very talented kid. But since he’s a project who probably needs intensive technique training, I think I have to go with 3.5 stars. That’s still fantastic, and that’s still a player who will help us greatly. Man, I really need to add .25 Tom Cruise intervals. Because this kid is the perfect 3.75 Cruise.


Looks Like University Of Illinois – Joe Fotu

Laney College? Seriously, Laney College? I’ve been to Laney College. I watched Illini players run around the field under the direction of head coach Vic Koenning at Laney College. Hop on the BART, go from SF to OAK, get off at the Lake Merritt station, and boom, you’re at Laney College. And now we have a player from Laney College.

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Looks Like University Of Illinois – Tre Watson

Back from Portland. And way behind on my LLUOI’s. Two football commitments, a running back’s (probable) transfer, and there I am wandering around Hood River, Oregon wondering why the fog always climbs halfway up the Columbia River Gorge but stops at Bonneville Dam.

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Looks Like University Of Illinois – DJ Williams

I’m really not sure how to behave at this point. If you just take the last five top-100 players that John Groce has landed – Quentin Snider, Kendrick Nunn, Leron Black, Malcolm Hill, and now DJ Williams – and you add spare parts from the basketball junkyard, you have a top-20 team in 2016. Of course, we have much more than just spare parts laying around, but that’s not even my point right now.

What John Groce is doing – the way this thing is shaping up – almost frightens me. I’ve been so comfortable living in this “don’t get excited, wait for the other shoe to drop” cave since 2007 or so that I don’t even know how to behave.

Like this – how do I handle this: It’s quite possible that for the other two scholarships in 2015 and the one scholarship in 2016, we slow play the 4-star kids and only chase 5-star McDonalds All-American types.  What?  I mean, what am I supposed to do with that?

OK, let’s back up.  I need to pace my breathing.  As we’ve done with the last few recruits, let’s do our own RSCI ranking because the RSCI for DJ Williams’ class won’t be out for another 12 months.  Here’s Williams’ ranking on the main four services:

Rivals: #45
ESPN: #29
Scout: #35
24/7: #44

Average ranking: #38

So using that ranking, here’s John Groce’s recruits in a list of all of our consensus top-100 recruits in the last 18 recruiting classes:

#19 Dee Brown
#20 Brian Cook
#21 Frank Williams
#24 Jereme Richmond
#28 Richard McBride
#29 Meyers Leonard
#33 Quentin Snider
#35 DJ Richardson
#36 Alex Legion
#38 DJ Williams
#40 Leron Black
#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
#76 Crandall Head
#77 Shaun Pruitt
#77 Nick Smith
#78 James Augustine
#78 Nnanna Egwu
#86 Aaron Spears

I really think we need to acknowledge what John Groce is doing right now. Let’s look at all of our coaches since the RSCI began.  It’s difficult to do this for Lon Kruger, as the RSCI began in 1998 so he won’t get credit for a top-25 kid like Marcus Griffin or a top-50 kid like Sergio.  But here’s what the numbers say:

Cook #20
Frankie #21
Powell #62

3 years, 3 RSCI recruits, average ranking #34

Dee #19
Rich #28
Deron #48
Randle #53
Chainsaw #77
Augie #78
Spears #86

3 years, 7 RSCI recruits (2.3 per year), average ranking #55

Jereme #24
Meyers #29
DJ #35
Legion #36
BP3 #49
Carlwell #49
Shaw #65
Henry #66
Abrams #69
McCamey #71
Head #76
Pruitt #77
Egwu #78

9 years, 13 RSCI recruits (1.4 per year), average ranking #56

The stunning thing about this list? Pruitt, McCamey, Paul, and Richardson all finished their careers as Illini, and Leonard declared early, but that’s it. Abrams and Egwu are still on the team, and everyone else left.

Snider #33
DJ Williams #38
Black #40
Nunn #57
Hill #70

2+ years, 5 RSCI recruits (2.5 per year), average ranking #48.

Thinking about it, Hill was actually a Weber recruit before he was a Groce recruit. So that would boost Weber’s total to 1.5 per year… but also mean that the ranked kids that John Groce has brought in average around #41. Six top-sixty kids in nine years for Bruce Weber, and now four for John Groce in the last 14 months.

Yep, there it is. All of this research and I’ve found a stat to settle on. In 108 months as the head basketball coach, Bruce Weber brought in six top-60 recruits. And three of them (Jereme Richmond, Alex Legion, and Brian Carlwell) played only a short time before leaving. Starting with Kendrick Nunn in September of 2012 and running through DJ Williams today, John Groce has brought in four top-60 recruits in 14 months.

And he’s not done. There’s some kid who is supposed to announce his college choice on November 15th – Biff Alexandria or something like that – and of course there’s top-100 guys in the 2015 class like Aaron Jordan who seem to be leaning towards Illinois. But what do we do with that when 5-star Carlton Bragg and 5-star Charles Matthews and 5-star Elijah Thomas and 5-star Diamond Stone all seem to have legitimate interest in Illinois? Oh, and I forgot to mention that one of the top 5 players in the 2016 class, Jayson Tatum, was on campus last weekend.

*smacks self in face, John L. Smith-style*

I really don’t know how to handle that.  I can’t process it.  I have two goals – see an Illini Rose Bowl win, see an Illini basketball national championship – and one of them just started to feel legitimately possible.  Add a Cliff or a Carlton Bragg or a Jayson Tatum and we can start legitimately thinking about it.

OK, I’m almost finished with this post and I haven’t even talked about Williams.  DJ Williams is a 4-star wing forward from Simeon (yes, that Simeon).  You know what?  This whole post has been so kool-aid that I need to play the other side for a bit.  Here’s an honest evaluation of what I see in Williams:

He’s an athlete and he’s tall and he’s lanky and he fits the mold of a dominating college wing forward.  But all of that is potential, and sometimes, ranked guys who can jump out of the gym don’t pan out.  Mike Shaw was supposed to be an athletic 3/4 in college, and he just never panned out.  Sometimes you recruit an athlete like this and they never develop basketball skills.  Sometimes they become Evan Turner.

So if I’m honest, Williams (and even Leron Black) are somewhat project recruits.  It’s their size, long arms, and athleticism that has them ranked this highly.  But sometimes they never pan out.  Which is why you should recruit two of them.  Oh hey look at that.  (Truth be told, I think Black might be more on the 4 side of 3/4 and Williams on the 3 side, but that just makes it even better).

OK, Tom Cruises.  I’ll say it – Tom Cruises are out of control.  I set up this scale of 1-5, but I really didn’t want it to be like star ratings.  Star ratings have become this thing where 5% get five stars, 10% get four stars, and then 75% get three stars with only the “nobody has ever heard of them” kids getting two stars.  And there are never one-star recruits.

I wanted Tom Cruises to be different.  Only the once-in-a-generation elite get 5 Tom Cruises.  One-offer kids without much good looking film get one Tom Cruise.  Everyone else is balanced in between.

And then I went and gave Leron Black 4.5 Tom Cruises, which meant when we landed someone a little better (Quentin Snider) I had to give him 4.71 Tom Cruises, which means the whole system is off.  So DJ Williams will be an unfortunate correction.  Even though he’s right there with Snider and Black, he is going to get four Tom Cruises.  Because if Cliff picks us in 10 days, I need that five Tom Cruise ranking to stand out like it should.  Because that one would basically go to 11.

DJ Williams to Illinois. A solid and respectable four Tom Cruises.


Looks Like University Of Illinois – Peter Cvijanovic

Dear recruits: When head coach Tim Beckman and recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh talk about family, they mean family. They want this program to have the best family atmosphere in the country, and this time, they went literal.

The latest recruit: Peter Cvijanovic, younger brother of starting left tackle Simon Cvijanovic. Peter was a 2013 recruit but received no offers, so he went to prep school, added 50 lbs, and landed an Illini offer. It was reported that he was getting recruiting interest from a few other Big Ten schools, but we were the only offer. Which means we’re going the sleeper route again.

It also means that we have to call him a Plan B recruit. Offensive line target Aaron Roberts from Chicago De La Salle visited Syracuse over the weekend and committed to the Orange on Sunday. So on Monday, we offered Cvijanovic, and it took him about 32 seconds to commit. He could have waited it out to see if a school like Purdue was going to offer, but the chance to play with his brother for one year was likely too much to pass up.

And his brother is a tiny bit excited about this. Here’s what he had to say on Twitter:

What do we know about Peter Cvijanovic? Not much. There’s very little film out there, and what is out there doesn’t show us much because it shows him as a 240 lb high school senior, not the 285 lb prep school player he (reportedly) is today. Is he really a tackle? Will he be more of a guard? Big blocking tight end? We’ll have to wait and see this spring (he’s a likely early enrollee).

I think the main thing we can evaluate here is the way we use our Plan B recruits. Let’s look at our last few Plan B guys:

We lost Reon Dawson to Michigan, so we offered Jayen Dunlap from Crete-Monee. If you’re going to offer a Plan B recruit, make it a guy on the team that wins state. And so far, it looks like we landed a diamond in the rough.

We lost safety Joshua Jones to NC State, so we immediately moved on Plan B James Crawford. Who just so happens to play for the one of the top high school programs in the country, St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Crawford looked pretty solid in Rantoul, but is redshirting this fall.

And this is the next Plan B recruitment. We lost out on Aaron Roberts when he picked Syracuse, so we immediately offered Peter Cvijanovic, the brother of a current starter. I like that Beckman/Golesh handle things this way (have a sure-thing Plan B kid if Plan A doesn’t work out). Zook didn’t do this, so when he lost safety Corey Cooper to Nebraska and safety Dondi Kirby to grades, he didn’t have any Plan B kids in the queue. Which happens to be why we don’t have many safeties on the roster.

So I like that we moved quickly, and I like that we kept things in the family. But beyond that, if we’re honest, this is a project recruit with no other offers. If a 4-star offensive tackle with offers from the entire Big Ten has a 72% chance of being successful, then a no-star offensive tackle in prep school who went to prep school because he didn’t have any high school offers has to have something like a 16% chance of being successful.

Again, I’m saying this sight unseen. He might be the biggest sleeper recruit we’ve ever landed and our starting left tackle for years. But playing the percentages – looking at recruiting history and sorting the players by high school ranking – maybe 7 of every 10 four-star kids work out and 1 or 2 of every 10 no-star kids work out. It’s just the way it goes.

So I think I have to give out my first single Tom Cruise.  No other offers yet in prep school, no high school offers despite running the camp circuit, and a Plan B after our guy committed elsewhere.  I can’t add all of that together and come up with anything but one Tom Cruise.  Now go prove me wrong, Pete.