Here I Go Again
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I am Robert, and I cannot help myself when it comes to piecing together future Illini basketball rosters. I follow recruiting, I look at which kids have named the Illini among their leaders, and I immediately start piecing together future rosters. Brad Underwood has proven that he prefers late recruiting over early recruiting, yet here I am, looking at reports from the Peach Jam, wondering which recruits we have a shot at this fall.
Let's start there. I compiled this list before, but let's look at it again. Fall recruits vs. spring recruits since Underwood took the job:
Players who signed in the fall:
Players who signed in the spring:
Yet here I am, thinking that THIS is the summer where we get in good with a few recruits, get them to visit this fall, and get them to sign in November. 8% of Underwood's recruits have signed in the fall, 92% in the spring, but THIS will be the year we land four players in the fall. I'm sure of it.
No seriously - at this point I'm totally certain of it. I can't see anything else. We use some of these preseason top-25 predictions and we build enough momentum through the fall to sign a really great class in November. Underwood's first two years, there was very little program momentum so there was very little fall recruiting momentum. But this year, we can point to NERDstats that put us 14th preseason and use that to convince top-100 recruits that we're on our way back and plan to stay back. Right? RIGHT?
I convinced myself of this last year as well, and then we signed exactly zero players in the fall. And then I stated that I had totally learned my lesson and wouldn't follow basketball recruiting in the summer because all of the action would happen the following winter/spring. Yet here I am, convinced that THIS is the year we'll kill it in the summer/fall.
Why do I do this to myself? Well, because this basketball class is, in my estimation, MASSIVELY important. Yes, I said that last year and yes, we struck out in the fall. I need to back up here a bit before I can move forward...
The plan is for this next season to be a breakout year. Everyone returns besides Aaron Jordan, we add Kofi Cockburn to hopefully prevent us from getting pushed around in the paint, Ayo returns for perhaps his last season before declaring for the draft, we have three of the top-20 players in the Big Ten in Ayo, Giorgi, and Trent - it's time for it all to come together.
But after that, what if it falls right back apart? What if the loss of Ayo (plus Feliz and Kipper) means that 2021 is a step backwards? Well, we'd better add some reinforcements.
Those reinforcements were available in the 2019 class. That would have been the perfect time to add them. They'd be on the team this fall getting their freshman year out of the way and then, after Ayo and Kipper and Feliz leave, they step in seamlessly as sophomores. Had this class been Kofi + EJ Liddell and Quincy Guerrier (they both visited), then I would be perfectly content going into the 2020/21 season. Yes, we'd need a guard in the 2020 class to replace Ayo, but that would be the only concern. If this class was Kofi + EJ + Guerrier, dear Lord the proclamations I would be making.
That didn't happen. This class was Kofi + two guys whose names we learned the moment they verballed - never a good sign - and that means we likely have holes in the 2021 roster. Massive holes if Ayo leaves.
That cranks the expectations for the 2020 class much higher. At least one recruit from that class will be expected to contribute as a true freshman. And history tells us that if a recruit is expected to contribute immediately, they'd better be a consensus top-50 recruit. Giorgis only come along once every 10 years. Lightning rarely strikes twice.
So that's where I'm going with this. The 2020/21 team, if Ayo leaves early, currently looks like this:
Guards - Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams, Alan Griffin
Wings - Tevian Jones, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk
Bigs - Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Kofi Cockburn, Bernard Kouma
The five players who fill these five open scholarships will be massively important, no? We can't go into 2021 with a backcourt of only Frazier, Williams, and Griffin. Replacing Dosunmu and Feliz will be very important.
I look at it like this:
July 15, 2018: "The 2019 class will be very important. Need to add guys like EJ Liddell to maintain this rebuild. Otherwise, all the pressure will be on the 2020 class to be freshman-impact players."
July 15, 2019: "The 2019 class was only Kofi + spare parts. This puts twice the pressure on the 2020 class. With several players transferring out and Ayo likely to leave, the 2020 class is now everything. If we return to the Tournament this coming winter like I expect us to, the 2020 class will then determine whether we stay up or fall right back down".
THIS is why I'm currently fooling myself. This class is everything. The names I'm reading about from the Peach Jam sound perfect. Heck, just restrict us to the Mac Irvin Fire (Adam Miller, Ryan Kalkbrenner, Marcus Watson) and we can probably get there.
Yet last year I thought the same thing. I followed July recruiting, I assembled a list of names, we got several of those names on campus, I wrote things like "if we just land the three players here this weekend we're all the way back" (when Liddell, Shannon, and Tshiewbe visted) and then we signed zero players in November. And two years ago I saw Colin Castleton and Landers Nolley in the pressbox during a football game and tweeted something about how those two + Ayo would help us realize our recruiting dreams and then we only signed Ayo in November.
So why do I pay so much attention to all these players who will most likely make their decisions in the next four months? No idea. You tell me. For whatever reason, this staff hasn't been successful on this end of the recruiting calendar, and yet here I am, expecting at least 3-4 players announced on Signing Day in early November.