There are several factors which can account for the University Of Illinois' remarkable string of success with respect to basketball recruiting over the last year and a half. They include a more aggressive approach and philosophy, the addition of Jerrance Howard to the coaching staff, the building of stronger relationships with promiment AAU and high school coaches within the state of Illinois, and a lot more. However, despite now securing four commitments from the class of 2009 and three from the class of 2010, we think that this is only just the beginning. The class of 2011 in Illinois has a chance to go down as one of the best in recent memory. When one considers that the Illini are involved with several of the top prospects in that class and currently stand a more than reasonable chance with more than a few of them, it has to give any Illini basketball fans goose bumps with respect to what could potentially loom on the horizon.
We write this blog primarily in light of the most recent verbal commitment that Illini head basketball coach Bruce Weber received this past week from 6'10 class of 2010 center Meyers Leonard from Robinson High School in Robinson, IL. First of all, there is not one Chicago-area scout or so-called internet guru who has seen Leonard play yet, so anything you are getting from them in the way of a scouting report is hearsay. That is why we aren't even going to attempt to offer one of our own.
What we do know from listening to those who have seen Leonard is that is he is highly athletic, can run the floor and finish, and has a world of potential. That is the key word here--potential. With that being said, there is no question that Leonard could be a huge piece to the puzzle when it comes to measuring the success of the Fighting Illini's 2010 recruiting class--a class which as of now includes our #1 and #2 ranked prospects in the state in 6'7 Jereme Richmond and 6'4 Crandall Head.
The Illini's 2010 recruiting class comes on the heels of a spectacular 2009 recruiting class which includes three top in-state guards in D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Joseph Bertrand. Richardson and Paul are our #1 and #2 ranked prospects in Illinois from the 2009 class. And what is scary is that although the Illini are technically now out of scholarships in the class of 2010, they continue to recruit 6'3 Lenzelle Smith from Zion-Benton, who is our #3 ranked prospect in the class.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Illini could still find a way to add Smith to their 2010 recruiting haul. This is because an additional scholarship could open up if one of the current players on the Illini roster were to leave early for the NBA. If that were to happen 6'3 guard Demetri McCamey would appear to be the most likely candidate.
But now on to the really exciting stuff. The Illini have six scholarships to give in the class of 2011, which might be the most talented class that the state of Illinois has seen since the class of 1998. Not only that, but Illini head coach Bruce Weber and his hard-working assistants are involved with virtually all of the top prospects in that class. In fact, they could be very close to landing a commitment in the not too distant future from 6'2 guard Chasson Randle from Rock Island. Assistant coach Jay Price has been working overtime throughout the month of July when it comes to his recruitment of Randle, having watched him play both with his high school team at the Rock Island Summer Shootout and on the AAU circuit with the Illinois Wolves.
The question that beckons from all of this is what has enabled Weber and his coaching staff to turn things around recruiting-wise when two years ago things looked as bleak as they could possibly be after the Eric Gordon decommitment? We believe that the answer to this lies in several factors, with all of them being equally instrumental.
First of all, after Gordon's decommitment, Weber took it upon himself to incorporate a more aggressive recruiting approach. It includes identifying recruitable prospects at an early age, staying on them, and extending scholarship offers much earlier in the process. There is no question that this approach has paid off when one looks at the recent results. At the time that Illinois was recruiting Gordon, the bottom line is that there was no plan B (over the course of time Weber has said this himself). Now the Illini not only have a plan B when it comes to the 2009, 2010 and 2011 classes, they even have a plan C and in some cases a plan D.
Another factor which has largely accounted for the Illini's recent recruiting success was Weber's hiring of Jerrance Howard as an assistant coach. As we have stated before, Howard has an upbeat personality and a natural passion and enthusiasm for Illini basketball which immediately connects with recruits. He also has developed strong relationships with virtually all of the most influential AAU coaches in the state of Illinois, all of whom are huge players when it comes to the recruiting process of many of the state's top prospects. And last but certainly not least, he has a work ethic which is second to none.
It is also plain to see how Howard's influence has rubbed off on Weber himself and the rest of the Illini coaching staff. In the past Weber was often content to watch games from the rafters. Not any more, as he (as well as Howard and Price) are front and center for any recruit that they are in the gym to see. Again, these are the things that any recruit (as well as his family) immediately notices.
Critics who never get out of their office and want to nitpick will make one believe that Weber still doesn't have a quality point guard amongst all of the recruits he has landed in either the 2009 or 2010 classes. What makes that opinion a completely ignorant one is that most anyone who has seen either Richardson, Paul, or Bertrand play on a consistent basis (including us) will tell you that while none of them may be natural point guards, they are all capable of playing that position and none of them will hurt you when doing so. Perhaps these people also forget that Crandall Head is more than capable of assuming that role if necessary.
In spite of all of this, we think that it is the 2011 class which will undoubtedly dictate how good of a basketball team the Illini can be in the years ahead. In light of everything that we have mentioned, it is plain to see that the possibilities are endless. Ultimately, Weber and his staff would like to land at least two of the following three prospects from amongst 6'7 Mike Shaw from De LaSalle, 6'5 Wayne Blackshear from Curie or 6'5 Sam Thompson from Whitney Young. And then they would like to get at least one from either Randle, 5'10 Donivine Stewart from Bartonville Limestone or 6'0 Tracy Abrams from Mt. Carmel. With the current momentum that Weber and company have going for them, this scenario is not out of the realm of possibility. If it happens, what will the critics then have to say?