By Joe Henricksen
While fans around Illinois basketball sat on pins and needles waiting for the decision of Rock Island's Chasson Randle a couple of months ago, a recruitment that went the distance and ultimately went Stanford's way, those close to Illinois basketball were aware of the infatuation the Illinois staff had for another player. That player -- Devin Langford out of Lee High School in Alabama -- committed to coach Bruce Weber and the Fighting Illini today.
Langford, a versatile 6-7 player who ultimately may be able to play three different positions, chose Illinois over offers and interest from Georgia, Wake Forest, Alabama, Auburn and Georgetown to name a few. After making an official visit to Champaign with his father Halloween weekend, Langford's interest continued to grow. He came back with his Lee High School team this past weekend and squared off with Orr at Assembly Hall.
Langford may not have the four or five stars attached to his name or the top 100 ranking, but Illinois is as excited about the commitment of the Alabama prep star as if he were a huge national name. Through the process, Illinois became more intrigued by Langford than their other options, including Randle.
This is a case where a college coaching staff loves what it sees and certainly could care less where a player is ranked. That's how much the staff likes Langford and how big of a ceiling they believe he has. And there are many who believe it's only a matter of time before Langford makes the jump in national rankings and perception. Time will tell if he is what the Illinois coaching staff thinks he can become.
There is one college assistant coach in the south who described Langford as "being as versatile as they come with instincts and a great feel for the game." That same coach added, "He's just starting to put it together." Another college coach told the Hoops Report this past fall that Langford "resembles a Penny Hardaway-type player."
Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard shows once again how vital and instrumental he is for Weber and the Fighting Illini basketball program. With Langford in the fold, Illinois has a five-man recruiting class that ranks as one of the best in school history and arguably one of the top 10 classes in the country when Langford signs in April. Impressively, Howard was the lead recruiter on all five of the recruits Illinois landed in the Class of 2011. That's awfully tough to do when talking about a top 10 class nationally.
Langford will join the Chicago foursome of Orr's Mycheal Henry, De La Salle's Mike Shaw, Mount Carmel's Tracy Abrams and 6-10 Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius.
With the Illini's impressive Class of 2011 following up the trio of Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and Crandall Head from last year, the cupboard is filled for Weber as he and his staff put a fullcourt press on the young talent in Illinois.
With one scholarship in 2012, Illinois will look to bring in the best possible big man or a difference-making point guard. But could Illinois just go ahead and add a sixth player to the Class of 2011? That wouldn't be a surprise, especially with the Class of 2012 in Illinois so alarmingly weak. Illinois is very much involved with 6-10 Kevin Johnson of Woodland Hills in California and the interest is mutual. Johnson is a true, back-to-the-basket big man with size.
And then there is the all-important Class of 2013 with the tandem of Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton as the focal point. These two remain such a high priority for the Illinois staff and program. We're talking a pair of Chicago kids both ranked among the top 15 players in the country in their class. They are friends, enjoy playing with one another and already have established a relationship with the Illinois staff and basketball program. Parker and Hamilton become the biggest recruiting priorities in Weber's time in Champaign.
With that being said, the Hoops Report breaks down the most influential recruits (in order) during Weber's seven-plus years as head coach at Illinois and the reasons they were so influential. Where would the likes of Simeon's Jabari Parker fall on this list? Right at the top.
1. Jereme Richmond, Waukegan (Class of 2010)
Why: This was Weber's first signature commitment, a bonafide difference-making type of prospect who committed during his freshman year of high school. Most importantly, Weber held on to the commitment through some turbulent times and many de-committing rumors as the 6-7 multi-talented Richmond stayed true to his word and lived up to the early hype he received.
2. Mycheal Henry, Orr (Class of 2011)
Why: First, Henry became the first big-time Chicago Public League prospect Weber has locked up. Second, he is the type of player Illinois has not had recently with his combination of size, shooting and scoring ability. And third, the Illini's rapid approach to securing Henry last winter (Illinois' interest, offer and commitment all came within a two-month period) showed the "get-it-done" recruiting effort some had unreasonably questioned.
3. Meyers Leonard, Robinson (Class of 2010)
Why: The premium on big men with talent is like no other in college basketball recruiting. A 7-footer who can run, jump, catch and has some skill? Illinois kept an enormous talent home before the frenzy got too wild around the late-blooming Leonard, who burst on the scene and was wrapped up before the interest dwarfed the big kid from a small town.
4. and 5. D.J. Richardson, Peoria Central/Findlay Prep
and Brandon Paul, Warren
Why: In October of 2007, with Richmond already on board as a committed 2010 prospect, Illinois still needed to hit a home run and get the ball rolling recruiting wise in the state of Illinois. It did just that as Richardson and Paul, a pair of talented top 100 shooting guards, committed virtually together at the same time. The Paul-Richardson commitments was a boost to the talent level and from a public relations standpoint. Recruiting began to pick up steam.
6. Tracy Abrams, Mt. Carmel (Class of 2011)
Why: This was more influential in the timing and the intangibles. Abrams committed almost three years ago to the day, before other programs were even able to get involved. He set the tone early for the stellar Class of 2011 as he's well liked and players enjoy being on the floor with him. And Like Henry, Abrams will bring attributes the program has lacked over the years, including toughness, leadership and a will to win that any coach would welcome at any level.
7. Demetri McCamey, St. Joseph (Class of 2007)
Why: Proving to be an underrated commitment and signing for Weber and the Illini. Where would Illinois be without the point guard play of McCamey, whose light appears to have officially turned on and remain on? And this was one where Illinois waited a long time--almost too long--in the recruiting process. Now he's a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and likely NBA first-round draft pick.
8. Mike Shaw, De La Salle (Class of 2011)
Why: From a pure need and recruiting perspective, Shaw could even be higher on this list. There is no player on this list Illinois had to fight harder for--or longer--than the 6-8 Shaw, whose recruitment was a topsy-turvy, gut-wrenching drama to the very end. Illinois did a magnificent job of building a relationship and staying on top of this one.