As Kendrick Nunn and his dad took in the recruiting pitches and visited the campuses of the schools the Simeon star was considering, one factor stood out above all the rest when it came down to the program he would ultimately choose: Illinois is home.
Unlike so many current prospects today -- and much like players a decade or two ago -- staying home and playing for the state university meant something to Nunn. Throw in a tight relationship with the coaching staff and the athletic 6-1 guard is on board as coach John Groce's first signature recruit from Chicago. Nunn committed to Groce and the Fighting Illini Saturday afternoon at the tail end of his official visit.
"It just didn't make any sense for Kendrick to go anywhere else," says his father, Melvin Nunn, who originally had a final five of Illinois, Marquette, Memphis, Ohio State and UCLA. "Playing for the major state school absolutely played a big part in the decision. It means something for him to play at the University of Illinois."
Nunn, the No. 3 prospect in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 player rankings behind Simeon teammate Jabari Parker and future Illini teammate Malcolm Hill of Belleville East, is a pivotal recruit for Groce and his staff. He opens up the pipeline for Groce to Simeon and the Chicago Public League. He brings instant name recognition and, more importantly, a competitive spirit and toughness to the program.
In addition to his high-level of athleticism, toughness and defensive presence, he's been a winner his entire career. Nunn has been a part of multiple state championships at Simeon and has won two gold medals playing for USA Men's U17 world championship teams the past two summers.
The Nunn family was impressed with the home visit from Illinois last Sunday, but the official visit to campus this weekend put Illinois over the top.
"They gave that presentation Friday night and I was all in," says Melvin. "Kendrick was on board, too, but he wanted to let it sink in for a few hours. "Their presentation gave me goose bumps. That's the best presentation anyone in the country could have given us, because they are the only school that could have given that presentation with all the ties and connections between Simeon and Illinois."
Melvin Nunn also went to Simeon, so he's more than familiar with both the present and past of Simeon basketball, which includes seven previous Wolverines. Among those are stars Nick Anderson and Deon Thomas, the school's all-time leading scorer with over 2,000 career points.
Both Kendrick and Melvin Nunn felt extremely comfortable and confident with Groce and the entire staff. Groce had a previous relationship with Nunn from recruiting him very early in his career while coaching at Ohio.
"There is nothing like being at home with your son at college and knowing they will take care of him," says Melvin. "With that staff, I can tell myself that Kendrick has a second father and three brothers that have his back."
The recruitment of Nunn was a heated battle, with Marquette considered to be the leader at one point and Ohio State closing in. Simeon coach Rob Smith felt Illinois did a terrific job in turning the tide and landing his star guard. He believes there were three factors that put the Fighting Illini over the top.
"The previous relationship Kendrick had with coach Groce and the staff at Ohio definitely helped," says Smith. "Plus, their style of play fits Kendrick perfectly. And I think [assistant coach] Paris [Parham] brought a lot and was a big key. His relationship with the Simeon program over the years, with Melvin, and the trust that there is with Paris was a big boost in this process."
Nunn, the No. 42 ranked player in the country by Rivals.com and No. 54 by Scout.com, joins a recruiting class that already boasts Malcolm Hill of Belleville East, a talented 6-6 wing, and 6-10 Maverick Morgan out of Ohio. Illinois continues to zero in on a pair of talented guards: Demetrius Jackson out of Indiana and Xavier Rathan-Mayes of Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Both are among the top 35 players in the country and have Illinois among their top three.
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