By Joe Henricksen
While Southern Illinois has been--and remains--the premier mid-major program in the country, another state school
is making its mark and is set to rebuild a proud basketball tradition. Thanks to a heavy focus on recruiting prep talent
in Illinois and a new head coach in Tim Jankovich who has pumped new life into the program,
Illinois State is on a fast track to becoming a player again in the Missouri Valley in the very near future.
First, Jankovich assembled about as perfect of a coaching staff as one could right out of the gate. Jankovich, the
former assistant to Bill Self at Kansas, wanted to put a focus on recruiting locally. He went and
got the highly respected Paris Parham from Morgan Park, who also has plenty of college
coaching experience. The Parham hiring instantly gave ISU credibility in the Chicago Public League. There aren't
many coaches who know the state better than Rob Judson, the former Northern Illinois head
coach and assistant at Illinois and Bradley. Add assistant coach Anthony Beane, who is well
connected in St. Louis, and Jankovich put key pieces together before even landing a single recruit.
Now Jankovich is adding personnel. First it was Decatur Eisenhower big man Jeremy
Robinson. It's not easy landing a 6-8 athlete in the Missouri Valley. With size at such a premium, an athlete
with the size Robinson has, typically lands higher. If Robinson comes back fully from a knee injury he suffered
early this summer, he's the type of prospect MVC rivals would drool to have. Then there is Keyon
Smith, the underrated point guard from Chicago Simeon. The Hoops Report has stated
numerous times that Smith just may be the most underappreciated senior prospect in the state. Again, like Robinson,
Smith brings something to the table that is rare to find. It's difficult to find a player who combines a defensive
tenacity to go along with unlimited scoring ability. Smith will get after you on one end and then showcase his terrific
shooting and scoring ability on the other.
Throw in the recent transfer of Chamberlain Iguchi, a 6-5 scorer from Oregon who will be eligible
in 2008-2009, to go along with current talent like Osiris Eldridge and Sead
Odzic, and Jankovich's Redbirds are poised for a breakthrough a year from now.
There is no question Jankovich and his all-star staff of Judson, Parham and Beane will get it done on the recruiting
trail. This staff has made its presence felt. There are so many positive vibes coming from high school coaches and
AAU coaches from around the state in regards to Jankovich and ISU basketball, something not seen or felt since
Kevin Stallings bolted Normal for Vanderbilt following back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths a
decade ago. This staff is as connected and respected by high school and AAU coaches as any that you will find.
There are several college coaches and programs that should take note of the initial steps ISU has made under
Jankovich in such a short time and follow the blueprint.
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