By Roy & Harv Schmidt
In today's fast-paced world of college basketball recruiting, the most successful programs are ones that are already looking two years down the road. What we mean is that they aren't still looking for prospects in the class of 2009 but instead are setting their sights on the class of 2011 and beyond. With that being said something that is always in the back of our mind is if one of the top prospects in Illinois from the loaded 2011 class might offer an early verbal commitment. While we are inclined to say that in all likelihood it will not happen, at the same time we realize that it is not out of the realm of possibility.
For evidence of how the recruiting game is played in today's day and age and how the schools that achieve the most success are the ones that are able to remain at least one step (and in some cases two steps) ahead, look no further than the Big Ten conference. Four schools from that conference--Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin--have already pretty much wrapped up both their 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes and are all focusing on the class of 2011. Another perennial Big Ten power, Michigan State, has gotten a great jump on their 2009 class as well. It is therefore no wonder that all of these programs annually rank among the top-tier teams in the league, and figure to remain there for quite some time.
All of which leads to the following question: Is there anyone in Illinois from amongst the extremely talented 2011 class who could possibly pull the trigger early and offer up a verbal commitment in the near future? In order to answer that, we are going to offer some analysis as it pertains to most of the top players in that class.
First of all, the recruiting lists of most of the top prospects in the 2011 class is expanding as opposed to shrinking. Therefore, the safe bet is that none of them are likely to commit all too soon. Immediate proof can be found by examining the situations of the two players that we have ranked as our top two prospects in Illinois from this class--6'7 Mike Shaw from De LaSalle and 6'5 Wayne Blackshear from Curie.
Both Shaw and Blackshear are visiting Texas this weekend and attending their Midnight Madness. However, we would be shocked beyond belief if either of them were to commit to the Longhorns right now. There are plenty of reasons to support that. The foremost reason is that we have always believed that while Midnight Madness is a great recruiting tool with respect to schools "showing love" for potential recruits, it is a vastly overrated event in terms of measuring where any program stands with them. In fact, can anyone name the last top-ranked player in any class from Illinois who offered a verbal commitment while attending a school's Midnight Madness?
A second reason why we see both Shaw and Blackshear waiting it out is because they are both smart enough to recognize that they can maximize their options by doing so. That in part explains why interest in both prospects continues to go through the roof. In fact, assistant coaches from both Wisconsin and Northwestern were on hand at De LaSalle this past week to watch Shaw in an open gym, and he has continued to draw the attention of programs throughout the Big Ten and Big East. Blackshear, meanwhile, continues to have programs such as Kentucky, Memphis and Florida knocking on his door as well. And of course both Blackshear and Shaw attended "The World's Biggest Basketball Practice" at the University of Illinois last weekend as well.
A pair of point guards, 6'0 Tracy Abrams from Mt. Carmel and 5'10 Donivine Stewart from Bartonville Limestone are yet two more prospects from the class of 2011 that we don't believe will make early decisions. As we have already mentioned, Abrams' recruitment has already taken a turn, with Illinois now being very much in the picture along with Kentucky, Memphis and several others. Stewart has said that he is in no hurry to offer up a commitment and at the present time has plenty of options worth considering as well.
If we had to bet on which of our top ten prospects in Illinois from the class of 2011 is most likely to commit early, we would still have to go with 6'2 point guard Chasson Randle from Rock Island. However, that doesn't appear to be as much of a certainty as it did at the end of the summer. We still believe that Illinois is the leader, but other programs remain strong as well, including Indiana, Iowa State, Bradley and Purdue. In addition, Randle has also said that he may schedule visits to both Wisconsin and Iowa in the near future.
Actually, the class of 2011 prospect who might be the most likely to end his recruitment soon could be 6'3 shooting guard Hayden Hoerdemann from Bloomington Central Catholic depending on how certain things play out. Hoerdemann has already been offered a scholarship by Illinois State and is without question one of Redbird head coach Tim Jankovich's top recruiting priorities in that class.
In closing let us emphasize that many of our feelings regarding this subject are gut feelings, as we learned one thing with respect to recruiting a long time ago--the only thing that is certain is that nothing is ever certain. While we think that most all of the top prospects from the 2011 class will still be on board by the time the 2009 July evaluation period rolls around, we also know that it won't stop any of the programs recruiting these prospects from pushing for an early commitment. Should that happen, there is no question that it would signify a coup for whichever school lands that particular player. And yes, you could then say that the program receiving the commitment is now two steps ahead of the game.