With Quentin Snider, the star senior point guard out of Louisville, now in the fold, Illinois coach John Groce has surpassed any and all expectations as coach at Illinois -- at least any and all on-the-job expectations a coach could have in 17-plus months.
In a little over 17 months since his hire, Groce has:
1. Overachieved on the court in his first season with a memorable and monumental win over the No. 1 team in the country at the time (beating Indiana Feb. 7), capturing the Maui Invitational, winning 23 games, reaching the NCAA Tournament and getting to the round of 32.
2. Secured the short term and will keep Illinois competitive with the addition of several key transfers, headed by Champaign's very own Rayvonte Rice coming home and set to play this season.
3. Been received well by the Chicago Public League's good 'ol boy club, including finding a way to be quickly welcomed by the state's premier basketball program (Simeon).
4. Won over the fans, media and, most important, the players within the program who publicly appear, and behind closed doors, to truly love playing for him. And, while doing so, has clearly developed a feel good atmosphere and established his own and different culture within the program.
5. Proven himself as a top-notch recruiter, assembling the right staff (very underrated) while showing the ability to close the deal with prospects when they hit campus and in the stretch run. That's a true ability.
6. Put together the ideal recruiting blueprint for building the Illinois basketball program -- not relying on one single recruiting area and targeting the RIGHT prospects in all of the still-must-be-recruited areas for this program to succeed: Chicago Public League, "downstate" (outside the Chicago area) and within a 5-6 hour drive of Champaign.
That last point is probably the most significant and appealing, because as everyone knows, recruiting is the lifeblood of a college basketball program.
First, the transfers count as recruits in my book. We're not talking Kenny Battle-like transfer impact. But say what you will about what they are as players or were as prospects, but the fact is four of them -- Rice, Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul -- have all been double-figure scorers at the mid-major level or higher in their career.
Second, within weeks on the job the staff kept previously committed Malcolm Hill of Belleville East in the fold, the Hoops Report's No. 2 in-state prospect in the Class of 2013. The true central Illinois or "downstate" prep star is a must to keep home for the Illinois program when available.
Third, Groce was able to tap into the Chicago Public League and nab Simeon's Kendrick Nunn, who Illinois fans must applaud for being really the first high-profile recruit to believe in what was being built, even when everything remained a bit new and uncertain. Nunn brought some instant cred and put a little "cool" back in Illini hoops with that commitment last year.
But now Illinois basketball has done something -- again, in just 17 months on the job -- that has been so difficult to do: Land top-notch, elite, out-of-state talent.
For Illinois basketball to thrive in today's culture, it absolutely needs Chicago. And by Chicago, I don't mean strictly the Chicago Public League but the entire Chicago area. Despite the frustrating recruiting battles in the city and sometimes the suburbs, you're a fool to think you can ignore it; over time there is too much talent to truly succeed at a high level without if you're the head coach at the University of Illinois.
But while Illinois basketball needs Chicago, it cannot solely depend on it. You're going to have your share of misses in the nitty-gritty, tough-as-nails, make-your-stomach turn recruiting battles that take place there, which is why to, again, succeed at a high level at Illinois, you need -- you must have! -- your out-of-state star cross over that border at some point.
Illinois has never had that on any consistent basis whatsoever.
Since Deron Williams signed with Illinois out of The Colony in Texas in the fall of 2001, the best out-of-state prospect Illinois signed in a 11-year stretch from 2002 to 2012 was ... Warren Carter? Chester Frazier? Richard Semrau? Tyler Griffey?
Wow. Forget star. That's 11 years -- a little more than a decade! -- without any impact help from outside Illinois.
And it's not as if Illinois was a big player outside Illinois PRIOR to Deron Williams. Cory Bradford out of Memphis and Robert Archibald out of Missouri were very solid recruits in the late 1990s. Anthony Welch and Glynn Blackwell out of Michigan were solid in the early to mid-1980s. The same could be said about Craig Tucker (out of Michigan) and James Griffin (out of Texas), who both signed in the late 1970s.
But that's basically it. For the love of Olaf Blab, Jens Kujawa, C.J. Jackson and Cleotis Brown, aside from Derek Harper (1980 to 1983) and Deron Williams, Illinois basketball has had little to no major out-of-state impact help in 35 years, especially of late.
Snider -- who, by the way, is exactly what Groce and the Illinois program needed from a player personnel perspective in a true point guard -- is the highest ranked, biggest profile recruit to commit to Illinois since ... well, since last week when Memphis prep star Leron Black pledged to the Illini. Snider is ranked No. 31 by both Scout.com and Rivals.com and No. 28 by ESPN.com. That's amazing when you think about it -- a pair of consensus top 50 recruits commit within a week after all the aforementioned out-of-state historical recruiting shortcomings just listed?
With the addition of Black and Snider, Groce jumped over an Illinois recruiting hurdle in landing high profile out-of-state recruits. They were coveted, recruited heavily by other elite college programs, are consensus top 50 prospects nationally and have created a buzz locally and around the country. They are also the exact type of players the current Illinois roster needs going forward.
For Illinois, this Leron Black/Quentin Snider combo, along with the addition of out-of-state freshmen Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert -- yes, out-of-state talent -- will ultimately play a big part in what can viewed as a renaissance of Illinois hoops going forward.
Now, is asking for Cliff Alexander too much?
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport