By Joe Henricksen
Fresh off a 25-win season and NIT bid, the Illinois State basketball program is enjoying its finest recruiting week in decades. Go ahead and put an exclamation point on ISU's Class of 2009. Coach Tim Jankovich just landed St. Rita guard Terry Johnson, the No. 11 rated player in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's latest Class of 2009 player rankings. Johnson is the third Redbird commitment in the last four days, following the tandem of 6-7 Jon Ekey and 6-5 Justin Clark of William Chrisman High School in Missouri.
Johnson, who sports a 4.1 grade-point average, and his family were wowed and thoroughly impressed by their visit to Illinois State, which resulted in a commitment while on the visit. Johnson, who visited ISU Thursday with good friend and AAU Mac Irvin Fire teammate Tony Nixon of Seton Academy, will fit in perfectly with the style Jankovich's team plays. The 5-11 combo guard, who just recently added a scholarship offer from Miami-Ohio and was considering Drake, Pacific, Loyola and Fairfield, is a gifted scorer with a mid-range game that extends beyond the three-point line. His dribble-drive and kick capabilities, as well as being able to knock down shots from all over the floor, will certainly flourish in ISU's system. The Hoops Report, which has often compared Johnson to former college star Hollis Price at Oklahoma earlier this decade, believes Johnson has been one of the real overlooked and underappreciated players in Illinois over the past couple of years. He blossomed as a sophomore at Seton Academy and then enjoyed a terrific junior year at St. Rita, averaging 21 points a game. As a senior, Johnson has the capability of putting up numbers and have the type of impact Kevin Dillard had at Homewood-Flossmoor last season when he burst on the scene and elevated his stock with monster offensive numbers.
This now gives Jankovich and the Redbirds three big-time scorers in this recruiting class. Ekey is an athletic four-man with terrific shooting ability from the perimeter, while Clark is also an outstanding shooter and scorer who led the state of Missouri in scoring with 28 points a game as a junior. When you think about it, ISU is adding a pair of scorers in Clark and Johnson that, together, averaged nearly 50 points a game - as juniors.
When Jankovich was hired in March of 2007 after serving on Bill Self's staff at Kansas, he quickly set out to assemble a staff with the focus being recruiting the state of Illinois. ISU had floundered since the departure of Kevin Stallings, going just 107-131 between Stallings leaving for Vanderbilt and the arrival of Jankovich a little over a year ago. In former coach Porter Moser's four years, the Redbirds landed just two players from the Chicago area - little used big man Ronnie Carlwell of Proviso East and current star Osiris Eldridge from Phillips.
Jankovich put together a stellar, top-notch coaching staff of Rob Judson, Paris Parham and Anthony Beane. As a result, ISU has increased visibility and is aggressive on the recruiting scene. The staff has certainly elevated Illinois State's presence, especially in Illinois - and in a hurry. ISU has been heavily active in recruiting the state, signing Simeon's Keyon Smith and Decatur Eisenhower big man Jeremy Robinson last fall, while landing former Hillcrest star, 6-7 Kellen Thornton, earlier this summer.
The recruiting wave continues for Jankovich and the Redbirds with the trio of commitments this past week.