Tuesday, November 5, 2013

All Aboard...

courtesy chicagotribune.com

The college basketball season is just a few days away but the recruiting season is always on topic.  This is never more evident right now for John Groce's Fighting Illini.  I wrote last year about Groce's ability to recruit and if given time, with his track record, the fruits of his labor would grow. 

This past few months have been a whirlwind of recruiting and has resulted in terrific results.  Just yesterday the Illini coaching staff have secured a commitment from 2015 prospect D.J. Williams.  This is a huge "get" for Groce and his staff. 

It shows the connections and relationships he has made in the Chicago market have been genuine.  This 6' 7'' small forward has now created a Simeon pipeline of sorts with his commitment.  The addition of Williams gives this team yet another Simeon product to go with Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. 

One of the greatest recruiting beds has always been Chicago and the coaching staff is staking their claim early in John Groce's tenure. 

The  news gathered yesterday from this very talented player doesn't stop there.  The Illini have already secured a stellar class for next season as well.  The 2014 class has been rated by some as a Top 15, i.e. ESPN.com.  The players with whom Coach Groce has put his time and effort into to attend the fine institution of learning that is the University of Illinois goes as follows. 

They started it all off with local product Michael Finke out of Champaign Centennial.  He took the leap of faith to join his favorite team and wants to bring Illini basketball back to where it rightfully should be.  A top tier Big Ten and national program.  If he can do for the Illini what Brian Cardinal did out of Tolono for Purdue basketball I think everyone in orange and blue will be very happy. 

The Illini coaching staff worked very hard to bring in the next two players for this years class and went out of the state to do so.  It shows everyone that not only the state of Illinois has talent but the rest of the country can ball too. 

Coach Grace added PF, Leron Black out of Memphis, TN.  He is a long and athletic player with great ability to run the floor and get to the rack with ease.  Leron can get his own shot but what team is really a team without he addition of a quality ball handler.  What better one to get than Louisville, Ky point guard Quentin Snider. 

Snider was a late addition to this class as he originally committed to Louisville but had a change of heart and opened his recruitment.  The Illini swooped in and sold a quality education, quality coaching, and the ability to compete for a role on this team as a freshman.  He is rated as the 5th best point guard in the 2014 class and Groce sees everything he likes in floor general in Quentin.

Now most fans would be happy with Coach Groce's second recruiting class and be content to look towards the 2015 class and the new addition of D.J. Williams as stated above. 

But this is not the case. 

There is one more big fish out there that is waiting to be caught. 

For those of you who are unaware of who I am speaking of his name is Cliff Alexander, or Big Cliff if your nasty.

courtesy pawofthetiger.com

The 6' 8'' backboard breaking powerhouse is a consensus top 5 player in the 2014 recruiting class and would be a humongous get for the Illini Nation.  They have already struck it rich with the players they have committed at this time but if they can add Big Cliff they would strike recruiting gold.

Guys of his ilk don't come around very often.  He is a post presence who is a complete and total game changer.  You add a player like Cliff to your current roster and the season can go from being good to potentially being all time great.

He is the type of player national championships are built on. 

And the Illini are right in the thick of it.  

He has taken his official visits to DePaul (8/24/13), Kansas (10/4/13), Memphis (10/18/13), and Illinois (10/26/13).  He didn't take an official visit to Michigan State but by reports he took an unofficial there.  It should feel good for Illini fans to have this guy on campus.  Groce has shown an ability to close the deal with recruits when he gets them on campus now that he has had ample time to entrench himself within this university. 

The Illini are waiting for this final countdown of days until Cliff decides to make his choice.  He has made one choice, which is certain, that is the decision will be made on his birthday, November 16.  This is just around the bend.

The Illini have fallen short in the recruiting game before which led to the firing of Bruce Weber.  They have fallen short with must get players like Jabari Parker last year.  But this to me feels different. 

Cliff has kind of done his own thing and been his own man playing his high school ball at Chicago Curie.  He could have moved to one of the perennial power schools like Simeon but he chose to stay home.  There is a great deal of respect in that decision.  It seems to me he wants to create his own niche.  This is what Groce is burning into his brain as bright as the orange uniform we hope to see him wear in Champaign. 

courtesy illiniloyalty.com

Groce is selling relationships and a new culture.  Cliff decides to play at Illinois and if he leads them to the promised land then he just might have a statue built in front of the newly named State Farm Center. 

Since the addition of John Groce as Illini basketball coach things have changed for the positive.  His positivity and optimism are infectious.  The kids be brings on campus love what he is all about. 

He is getting the Illini Nation to be proud of their basketball team again.  He is working diligently to restore this program.  He is the conductor of this train and it is rolling down the tracks once again.

Illini fans everywhere should climb aboard because I believe this is going to be one very smooth ride and the next stop just might be a national championship.


  1. I am not a fan of Illinois basketball, but agree that Groce has done an admirable job in recruiting players. However, I have seen this movie before and it has only one of two endings.

    #1: The Bill Self Ending: Groce continues recruiting good players and even a few great players and builds a winning program. This, of course, opens all sorts of opportunities in coaching for Groce, and like Bill Self, he in short order is looking at Illinois in his rear view mirror. And, like Self, he leaves before completing the job of making Illinois a national power.

    #2: The Bruce Weber Ending: In 2010 Weber had a top 15 recruiting class, consisting of: Jereme Richmond a McDonald’s All –American, Meyers Leonard a First Team All State player, and Crandall Head a top 100 pick, who would probably have been higher had he not missed his Junior year due to injuries. None of those three players ever made an impact on Illinois basketball, and Weber was soon gone. This is second most likely ending for Groce, but given the sad history of Illinois basketball, a very likely ending.

    In sort, nothing ever turns out well in the Land of the Dancing Indian, and that includes the fate of the Dancing Indian himself.

    1. I hope both the scenarios you have described are untrue and ending #3 is much better. Although history has been cruel to our Illini fanbase. Thanks for the comment. Keep them coming.

  2. Anything is possible. I remember a scenario in the late 1980's when Kenny Battle transferred from Northern Illinois and Nick Anderson from Simeon picked the Illini. That worked out well in 1989.

    It may work. It may not work. Bottom line is you got to have players and Groce is giving Illinois a chance to be the near the top in the Big 10.

    Great blog as always!

  3. Eleven rings was right: It’s the Bruce Weber ending. Kind of reminds me of the Dean Martin Song.

    “Like the fella once said, ain’t that a kick in the head”, as Cliff Alexander makes a fool of Illinois before choosing Kansas.

    “Like the sailor said, quote, ain’t that a hole in the boat”, as Quentin Snider toys with Illinois and then goes back to Louisville.

    Bruce Weber must have a big smile on his face today.

  4. Weber is smiling! He sure brought in a great class to Manhattan, KS this year.