Ten Names You'll Learn In 2019
Happy New Year. Let's start with a fun fact. Did you know that Illinois won 12 times in the last 12 months? 4 basketball wins last January/February, 4 football wins this fall, 4 basketball wins in November/December. Oh, you knew that? You lived every single second of it, fighting off the realization that your beloved athletic department has sunk to Rutgers levels?
2019 must be the year. It must turn around in 2019. It just has to. There's not much more we can take. One win per month. Twelve times in an entire calendar year where we can leave the stadium/arena or turn off the TV and feel happy? A fanbase can only take so much.
So let's figure out ten names who will get us there. And, as always, this isn't just restricted to football or basketball. These are ten Illini names, not ten Illini football/basketball names. The other sports are certainly doing their part to keep us sane. Here's hoping that continues.
Let's start with a recap of last year's names:
1. Francis Okoro (Ouch. The big man we needed in the paint, but he chose Oregon.)
2. Jamal Woods (Was great in the first three football games. Unfortunately, an injury ended his season. Fortunately, he'll get a redshirt and we get three more years.)
3. Michael Feagles (Didn't have the breakout season for the golf team that was expected. Still led the team to the NCAA's, though.)
4. Brandi Beasley (Currently second on the WBB team in scoring, second in rebounding, first in assists. The women's basketball team will go as Beasley and Alex Wittinger go.)
5. Jason Bargy (HS DE from Momence was a big recruiting loss to Minnesota. But then an arrest meant he didn't sign with a college program.)
6. "Senior Standouts" (I pointed out how volleyball, basketball, baseball, football, and basketball would all be lead by seniors in 2018 after basically zero Illini seniors anywhere in 2017. It worked for volleyball as Jordyn Poulter and Ali Bastianelli led the team to the Final Four. The other programs... still don't have any seniors.)
7. Ayo Dosunmu (Self-explanatory.)
8. Megan Cooney (I had chosen Jackie Quade as the breakout volleyball player on my 2017 list. Quade led the team in kills and Cooney was second. A huge part of the Final Four run.)
9. Jake Hansen (Tied for the team lead in tackles with 95 after sitting out 2017 with an injury. Will likely lead the football team in tackles for three consecutive seasons.)
10. Bing Singhsumalee (The women's golf team missed the NCAA's by one shot last spring. But this fall, they've taken a bigger step forward, finishing the fall season ranked #18, which is higher than the current men's ranking. Singhsumalee was the Big Ten Golfer of the Week in October.)
Right to it. Ten Illini names you'll learn in 2019. Yes, you'll "know" many of these names. But you'll really know them one year from today.
1. Milo Eifler
It's a really tough year to play the "names you'll learn" game with the football team. From the two-deep (48 players), Illinois will only be replacing six spots (QB, WR, blocking TE, OG, MLB, K). College teams are usually replacing 14-22 of the players on their two-deep; next year we replace six. So you already know almost every name of every player on the field.
But you might not know Milo Eifler. He transferred to Illinois from Washington this summer, so he had to sit out this entire season. A former four-star recruit, he played as a true freshman (and as a sophomore) at Washington, but found himself third on the depth chart at linebacker coming out of last spring at Washington, so he chose to transfer.
Which is good for us. Was he a "bust" at Washington? Probably. A four-star who couldn't beat out the players in front of him. But is the seventh-best linebacker at Washington better than anyone we have on our roster? Probably. In the world of bigger/stronger/faster, he's bigger and stronger and faster than any linebackers we have.
2. Mica Allison
The biggest loss for Illini Volleyball, fresh off the Final Four? First Team All American setter Jordyn Poulter. The biggest returnee? First Team All American outside hitter Jacqueline Quade. The need? A setter to set Jacqueline Quade. The person to do that? Possibly Mica Allison.
Allison, like Poulter, was a top-10 national recruit. Allison, unlike Poulter, chose Auburn after high school. But after one year at Auburn, perhaps inspired by her hometown team going to the Final Four (Allison, from White Heath just outside Monticello, played her high school volleyball at St. Thomas More in Champaign), she has announced a transfer to Illinois. And in volleyball, there's no sit-out year. She's eligible to play next season.
There's no guarantee she wins the job right away. She'll go up against junior Kylie Bruder and redshirt-freshman Diana Brown (Brown was the #45 player in the 2018 class; Allison was #7) in a battle to win Poulter's spot. And there's also something in volleyball called "6-2" where you utilize two setters (all six players will be attackers in the front row, so you use two setters), so you might see Chris Tamas use two setters next season.
My guess is that hometown girl Allison wins the job. Oh, and I believe it's pronounced "Micah", not "Meeka", so... there's something you didn't know.
3. Michael Massey
I could have really impressed you last year if I had chosen Bren Spillane for this list. He went from complete unknown to, according to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, the National Player of the Year. And he won the Big Ten Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI.
With Spillane off to the Cincinnati Reds, the team leaders will probably come from the double-play combo of SS Ben Troike and 2B Michael Massey. My pick to click: Michael Massey. He was already named a preseason third-team All American, so we're probably looking at a player who will be in contention for Big Ten Player of the Year (an award that Spillane won last year). Illini Baseball should be back in the NCAA Tournament this season, and it will likely be Massey who leads us there.
4. Adam Miller
I always pick a basketball recruit for this list, but the names I've chosen have been so disappointing. Last year? Okoro (Oregon). The year before, Tim Finke (fell to Grand Canyon). The year before that? Jeremiah Tilmon (I refuse to write it).
This year: I'm picking Adam Miller. Ayo's high school teammate. The Next Great Player From Peoria whose family moved to Chicago. The state of Illinois hasn't produced much in the way of top-35 basketball players the last five years, but it has produced Ayo and Adam Miller, and we need them both.
Can we land him? Man, don't make me answer that. We're 4-9 right now. I'm not sure Deron Williams' son would sign up to play for Illinois today. But this is a "Ten Names You'll Learn" column, and you're going to hear his name A LOT over the next 12 months.
5. Donny Navarro
Five years ago today, I first brought up the name Clayton Fejedelem. Fej went on to become FEJ! and then was drafted by the Bengals. Now, another "he transferred in from a small school and just remember his name because I think he can eventually play at this level" player: Donny Navarro.
Navarro, from Dude K's high school (Neuqua Valley), went to Valparaiso out of high school. In one year there, he was their leader in receptions, reception yards, touchdown catches, and every other receiving category, so he had a Fej moment - he could stay at Valpo, or he could walk on at Illinois and see if he could play at the highest level. He decided to transfer (and, like Fej, had to sit out a year even though he was walking on).
Now, on a team that needs receiving help, Navarro is an option. It's a long, long road from Valpo to the Big Ten, but... just keep Navarro's name in the back of your mind.
6. Alex Brown
I should be writing more about the tennis team. Someone asked me recently if the volleyball team or the men's golf team was the next opportunity for a national title at Illinois, but my vote is the 2020 tennis team. This year is probably the One Year Away season, but in 2020, with everyone returning, the tennis team should be top-5 in the country. Right now, preseason, there are five ranked players nationally - #10, #44, #71, #90, and #92. And that's one junior, three sophomores, and a freshman.
Number 10 on that list? Sophomore Alex Brown. Which makes sense because he was the #5 player in the 2017 class. After a great freshman season, here he is, as a sophomore, as a top ten player nationally. If he keeps progressing, you're looking at the next Illini player with a chance to win an individual national title.
But that wasn't what I was referencing above. It's time for another team title, and if all of these player progress, I really do think it's possible in 2020.
7. Jada Peebles
Peebles committed to the NC State women's basketball program in 2013 (yes, 2013). And then, a month before signing day this November, after being committed to NC State since junior high, she flipped her commitment to Nancy Fahey and the Illini women's basketball program.
Why did she decommit from her hometown team? Not sure, but it appears to have been a family falling out. Her brother, who was on the NC State track team, announced he was transferring to LSU.
That's a great place for Nancy Fahey to slide in and provide a soft landing place. A top-100 player who had college offers in junior high is suddenly available a month before signing day because of some unknown falling out? That's the kind of player who can boost the women's basketball team immediately.
8. Adrien Dumont de Chassart
And you thought redshirt freshman women's basketball player Nancy Panagiotopoulou Andritsopoulou had a long name. Adrien Dumont de Chassart, who we're just going to call ADDC for short, is the next player in the Belgian pipeline for the Illini men's golf team. How has that pipeline been producing? Well Thomas Pieters and Tom Detry, both Belgian Illini golfers, recently won the World Cup of Golf together (just the two of them against pairs of players from other countries). Current junior Giovanni Tadiotto is from Belgium. As is ADDC. As is 2019 signee Jerry Ji (Jerry Gee II!).
ADDC had a rough start to his freshman season. In his first event back in September, he opened with an 81, followed by a 78. Since then? In his next 10 rounds, his average was 69.9, which is the best average on the team over those ten rounds. So he goes into the spring season in contention to be the #1 player (as a freshman).
On the World Amateur Golf Rankings (they simply take the results from every single amateur golf tournament, including college tournaments, and rank the best players in the world), he's currently #143. That's a very significant number for a college freshman. For example, here are the rankings for the three juniors, all part of a top-12 golf team last year:
Michael Feagles #263
Giovanni Tadiotto #337
Bryan Baumgarten #678
ADDC. Remember the name. Or at least the abbreviation.
9. Zeriah Beason
You know his last name, but you probably don't know his first name yet. Zeriah is Marquez Beason's cousin. And he's a four-star wide receiver in the 2020 class. And he's probably the #1 target on our board.
If you read the recent story on Marquez in the Dallas paper, you know that Marquez, whose father is in prison and whose mother is not part of his life, lives with Zeriah's family. That's the family who would bring him to all of his unofficial visits. That's the family who supported his decision to come to Champaign. And hopefully that's the family who will want to send their son to Champaign as well.
It won't be easy. The current Crystal Ball favorite for Zeriah is LSU. They're LSU, and we're Illinois. But if we want to no longer be Illinois, we need to land Marquez AND Zeriah.
10. Anthony Higgs
It's really hard to choose a current basketball name for this list. You know all of the guys on the bench (mostly because you've been yelling "play Griffin more" and "free Tevian" at the games - I've heard you).
But you might have forgotten about Anthony Higgs. And in our never-ending search for some big men to crowd the paint, perhaps Anthony Higgs, currently redshirting with an injury, is the guy who breaks out next November. Higgs was a very late addition to the 2019 class. After Andy Kennedy was fired last spring, Higgs decommitted from Ole Miss and was back on the market. He picked Illinois and, as mentioned above, is sitting out this 2018/19 season as he rehabs from an injury.
So that's the basketball name I'll choose here. Yes, hopefully, there's more Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones next season. But hopefully there's also a big surprise in the paint in the form of Anthony Higgs.