Looks Like University Of Illinois - Anthony Higgs
The main reason I spent three hours researching fifth-year transfer big men last week? Because we're desperate for frontcourt players and I was pretty sure all of the high school bigs were gone. Well, there was basically one left, and now he's picked Illinois.
The timeline is important here. It shows us two things: why was Anthony Higgs still available, and what kind of player is he expected to be? A coaching change tells one story, his offers tell the other.
Last fall, Higgs committed to Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss. His final five schools as he went through the recruiting process: Ole Miss, Xavier, Colorado, Cincinnati, and Kansas State. He signed with Ole Miss in November... and then Andy Kennedy was fired in February. After initially tweeting that he was sticking with his Ole Miss commitment, in April he asked out of his LOI.
Chris Mack - no longer at Xavier, now at Louisville - was still interested and offered him a Louisville scholarship. Other schools that the internet tells me were involved the second time around: Virginia Tech, South Florida, and Buffalo. But yesterday - June 26th, with classes starting in eight weeks - he picked Illinois.
Let's start with my fears. Reading the Evan Daniels article yesterday (which broke the commitment news, I believe), I got hung up on this sentence:
Higgs said he's currently finishing up a summer class and then will head off to Illinois once that's completed for the remainder of the summer.
The only reason I can think that a recently graduated high school senior is "finishing up a class" on June 26th is that he has a little transcript trouble and is trying to take summer classes to qualify. So I think we need to start there. Thinking out loud, there might be a reason he backed out of his Ole Miss pledge and was still available on June 26th.
Most players who ask out of their LOI after the coach is fired end up making a decision fairly quickly. The most famous one recently - Michael Porter Jr. - asked out of his LOI after Lorenzo Romar was fired at Washington and then picked Missouri within a week. The fact that this didn't happen right away suggests that there were some other things going on.
Now, hopefully, this late June surge (Louisville and Illinois offers in the last 10 days) suggests that he has any of those issues cleaned up (again, I'm just guessing here). It could be that he has now shown a path to qualification so it's no longer Buffalo and South Florida interested, it's Louisville and Illinois. But I still think that's the starting point for this whole thing. Until he's on campus and enrolled, I'll remain cautious.
Once he IS on campus and enrolled? I'm fairly giddy. As I said on Twitter yesterday, finding former P5 commit on June 26th is a good bit of business. There was, like, one remaining high school player who could fill our desperate need for frontcourt players, and we landed him. Even if he turns out to be a bust and players from the 2019 class are immediately in front of him in the rotation, he's still a body for the 2018/19 season. In the worst case scenario... still totally worth it.
Again, with Samba Kane having transcript issues, we're down to Giorgi Bezhanishvili as our entire big man rotation. Kipper Nichols and Tevian Jones will play there, but they're not "bigs" per se - they'll be wings playing in the post. Aaron Jordan will probably play there a bit. We just don't have any big bodies.
But now we have one in Higgs. No, he's probably not "ready" as a true freshman, but this is a lot better than holding open campus tryouts. We were looking at desperation scenarios the last few weeks (like Dima Zdor, who ended up at Weber State), and now we landed a player who originally considered Ole Miss, Xavier, Cincinnati, Colorado, and K-State and in the end came down to Illinois or Louisville. That's a great late save.
My comp for Higgs? That's easy - a poor man's Jerrod Gee. No, he didn't pick Illinois over Duke like Gee did. No, he wasn't Mr. Basketball like Gee. But when I watch this kid on film, I swear he looks EXACTLY like Jerrod Gee. Shorter and quicker but still clearly a forward. Lefty jump shot with a flicked wrist release. I mean, even their frames look identical. Again, Higgs isn't the level of recruit that Gee was - thus the "poor man's" - but they certainly play the game the same way.
(I just realized that even some 28 year-old Illini fan might now know who Gee was. Gee was the first big recruit after the Bruce Pearl sanctions were over. Richard Keene was the first big recruit WHILE the sanctions were going on, but after they were over, landing Gee - Illinois Mr. Basketball in 1994 I believe - was a big deal. Gee, who went by Jerry Gee his first year, ended up being a starter on that Big Ten Championship team in 1997/98.)
So put this one down as a great late pick-up. Yes, he's a project (just like most every big man is a project), and we'll be expecting way too much too soon (if he does, you know, make it to Champaign). But he has the skillset to be a legitimate piece down the road. And man do we need big men with legitimate skillsets.
I have to be careful with Tom Cruises. Given how desperate things have been in the frontcourt and given my fist pump when Higgs picked Illinois, I'll be tempted to overrate Higgs here. This is a huge pickup for this season given our numbers, but that has to be tempered with a calm look at his ranking (and offer list). There's a reason, say, Maryland (in his backyard) passed on him. Bigs always require development, and they must be ranked accordingly.
Anthony Higgs - Two and one-half Tom Cruises