By Joe Henricksen
The rise of Jalen James was coming fast. And the Illinois coaching staff realized it and made a strong push for the rising point guard from Hope Academy. While on campus Wednesday for the Illinois Team Camp, James committed to coach Bruce Weber.
James had not planned on committing early, saying he wanted to wait it out until after his junior year. But the idea of playing close to home, with Chicago area players he knows and the relationship he established with the Illinois coaching staff made it all feel right. The idea of committing wasn't on his mind, but he admitted things changed quickly.
"The relationship I have with coach Weber and coach Jerrance was definitely a factor," said James in regard to his early commitment. "Plus, I know all the freshmen that are there right now. I have played with them and can't wait to play with them in the future. My style of point guard play, being a pass-first point guard, will fit in well with all the young talent they have in place. It's close to home and my family can see me play. That's it. I'm done. I'm going to Illinois."
James, the No. 10 ranked player in the Hoops Report's loaded Class of 2013 in Illinois, is one of the top point guard prospects in the state. He brings size, versatility and a whole lot of untapped potential. It's that potential and the unknown that makes James intriguing as he is just beginning to blossom as a player. However, there remain some holes he needs to fill. First, he's not very explosive with the ball and he must find a way to improve a very suspect jump shot.
With senior Sam Maniscalco and freshman Tracy Abrams handling the point guard duties for Illinois this year -- and the likes of sophomore Crandall Head in the mix to potentially play minutes at the lead guard spot if needed -- there is a need for a pure point guard in the program. James, a 6-3 junior, will provide that point guard presence when he arrives on campus in the fall of 2013.
This is the first verbal commitment for Weber and his staff after landing a stellar Class of 2011. Assistant coach Jerrance Howard again played a key role in the recruitment of James. Howard was one of the first high-major assistant coaches in on James, taking in a Hope Academy game last December at the Jacobs Holiday Tournament. James has come a long way in a short period of time, especially with his play this spring while playing for Mike Mullins and the Illinois Wolves.
James just has that natural look and feel a basketball player brings to the floor, gliding up and down the floor with ease. But as noted, he's not exceptionally quick or explosive and is limited offensively. He's a handle the ball, run your team, pass-first point guard who is not comfortable right now making plays.
James handles it and likes to push the tempo in transition, where he can use his length and savvy to create opportunities for himself and others. He has shown an ability to keep his head up, survey the floor and make the decisions a point guard needs to in running a team. He always seems to be in control.
James, who admits he is a bit banged up after a busy spring on the AAU circuit and playing in both the DePaul and Illinois Team Camps this week, will be taking time off as he prepares for the July evaluation period.
"I am going to shut it down," said James. "I am going to hit the weights and [protein] shakes and get ready for July. It is pretty nice to know the recruiting part is over and it's done."