Ten Names You'll Learn In 2018
My yearly New Years Day post (although this one probably won't get published until after midnight so it's gonna be a January 2nd post). A look ahead at ten important Illini names for the year to come. Starting with a look back at last year's list:
The 2017 list and a quick blurb on how I did:
1. Ricky Smalling (leading receiver - enough said.)
2. DJ Williams (I was hoping for a breakout season - Groce was fired and DJ transferred to George Washington.)
3. Tyra Perry (Led the softball team to a big season and an NCAA Tournament. Bright future ahead.)
4. Quincy Patterson (Juice 2.0... picked Virginia Tech and is their star QB of the future, not ours.)
5. Rich Harvest Farms Golf Course (Illini Golf did make it to the national semifinals at Rich Harvest Famrs... before losing to Oklahoma.)
6. Trent Frazier (No explanation necessary.)
7. Griffin Palmer (Went looking for a breakout tight end in this offense - it was Louis Dorsey, not Griffin Palmer.)
8. Jackie Quade (led the volleyball team in kills - they shocked #8 Washington and made the Sweet 16.)
9. Tim Finke (I picked the wrong basketball recruit - Ayo was Mr. Everything, Finke is headed to Grand Canyon.)
10. Nick Allegretti (by far the best player on the field for the Illini this past fall).
OK, right to it. Ten names you'll learn in 2018 (or, you know, names you know but you'll really KNOW a year from today).
1. Francis Okoro
We landed Mark Smith, Illinois Mr. Basketball 2017. We landed Ayo Dosunmu, likely Illinois Mr. Basketball 2018. And next we need to land Francis Okoro, likely Illinois Mr. Basketball in 2019. The dunkasaurus big man from Normal West is the must-get of the 2019 class (just like Ayo was the must-get of the 2018 class). Land him, and it's easy to see a team led by Smith, Dosunmu, and Okoro going very, very far.
2. Jamal Woods
It feels like he's the forgotten guy in the 2017 football recruiting class. He played a lot last year, even started four games, but people only talked about Bobby Roundtree, Isaiah Gay, and the sophomore defensive tackles. A year from today, I feel like you'll be saying things like "man, why aren't we talking about Jamal Woods more?"
3. Michael Feagles
Illini golf will be led by the two seniors this spring - Dylan Meyer and Nick Hardy. But if they're going to make another run to the final eight of the NCAA Tournament, they'll need a big step forward from their #3, Michael Feagles. Mike Small will need to figure out his #4 and #5 spots - they were the weak links in the fall season and kept the Illini out of the top of several tournaments - but going from a Big Two to a Big Three by adding the sophomore (Feagles) to the two seniors would go a long way towards getting back to the final four referenced above.
4. Brandi Beasley
It will take a few years for Nancy Fahey to turn around the women's basketball program. If she is able to do it, there will probably be a lot of leaning on point guard Brandi Beasley. An All Freshman Team pick last year, Beasley is now the go-to scorer for Fahey in her first season. And much like Brad Underwood's first year, with most of the team returning next season, Fahey will try to make some noise in the Big Ten in year two. Probably by leaning on Beasley.
5. Jason Bargy
I always pick a football recruit for this list, and Bargy's the guy for the 2019 recruiting class. Signing Day is a year away, but Bargy, from Momence (only, what, 75 minutes up the road) already has offers from Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Iowa (and Illinois, of course). Lovie has been recruiting him ever since he arrived in Champaign, and Lovie does great things with 6'-4" defensive ends, so here's the next 4-star that Lovie needs to land.
6. "Senior Standout __ ____"
The football team had 8 seniors. The volleyball team had 1 senior. The men's basketball team has 1 senior. The women's basketball team has 2 seniors. The baseball team has 2 seniors. This might be the youngest year in school history. But next year, most of those numbers go up. So for number six on this list I'm choosing the phrase "senior standout". Because next school year we get back to having actual seniors on our teams.
7. Ayo Dosunmu
OK, yeah, I mailed this one in. I picked our one and only basketball recruit, and you've heard his name a hundred dozen times. But he's the most important new name in all of Illini athletics in the past five years, so he has to get a spot on this list. Just over ten months away from his coming out party at the Maui Invitational.
8. Megan Cooney
The future seems bright for the volleyball team. This past season they were led by one senior, two juniors, and then a bunch of sophomores and freshmen. One of those freshmen, Cooney, seemed to be the breakout star of the team's surge over the final month of the season. If there's such a thing as a sophomore leap in volleyball, it's likely Cooney who makes the jump to "star" next season.
9. Jake Hansen
You would have learned Jake Hansen's name this past season. At the beginning of camp, he had locked down the Will Linebacker spot. But a knee injury at camp took away his sophomore season and now he'll return, as a sophomore again, looking to lock down the WLB spot again. Lovie seems to love Jake Hansen - Lovie wants linebackers who will make the correct read on every play, and Hansen seems to be that guy. Here's hoping he'll have a breakout season in 2018.
10. Bing Singhsumalee
We know about Illini golf, but did you know that the women's golf team is currently ranked 14th in the Golfstat rankings? The men are ranked 12th at this point, so it's possible that the women's team could finish the year with a higher ranking. The name you might need to learn? Bing Singhsumalee. A preseason All Big Ten selection, the junior from Naperville will be looking to lead this Illini women's team into the NCAA Championships. They're the only Big Ten women's team in the top-25, so a Big Ten title is probably the major goal this spring. Go get 'em, Bing.