Illini And Jerrance Howard Turn The Tables In Tracy Abrams' Recruitment

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By Roy & Harv Schmidt

It is absolutetly impossible to diminish the significance of this Saturday's festivities at the University of Illinois following the Illini's football contest vs. Minnesota. We are talking about what has been dubbed "The World's Biggest Basketball Practice." It is an event which will have virtually all of head coach Bruce Weber's primary in-state recruiting targets from the class of 2010 all the way down to the class of 2013 on campus at the same time. While each recruit's attendance is noteworthy, the one that we believe could have the greatest impact is Mt. Carmel's class of 2011 point guard Tracy Abrams. We say this because it is indicative of how the Illini have undoubtedly turned the corner in the Abrams recruiting sweepstakes.

Until recently, it was generally believed that the Illini had no chance of recruiting Abrams whatsoever. This is because the traveling team that Abrams played for was the Chicago Express, coached by Reggie Rose. Let's just say that Bruce Weber and Reggie Rose aren't going to be sitting down together at the same dinner table at any time in the future. We think that everyone knows the reasons why.

Since that time, things with Abrams have changed considerably. During the July evaluation period, Abrams switched his AAU allegiance and began playing for the Mac Irvin Fire. This is highly significant when one considers the fact that the Fire program is absolutely loaded at all levels. The 17-Under squad includes our #1 ranked prospect from the class of 2011 in 6'7 Mike Shaw from De LaSalle and 6'4 Crandall Head from Crane Tech in Chicago, who is our #2 ranked prospect from the class of 2010 and has already committed to Illinois. The 16-under squad features 6'5 Wayne Blackshear from Curie, 6'5 Sam Thompson from Whitney Young and 6'5 Dre Henley from De LaSalle, who are all among the top-ranked prospects in the loaded 2011 class. All of these players will be in attendance for The World's Largest Outdoor Basketball Practice.

Moral to the story? Reggie Rose is not the one in control of Abrams' recruitment. Furthermore, the people who are in charge have no hidden agendas and remain fully supportive of the Illini basketball program. Not only that, but the Illini coaching staff has now built a strong relationship with Mac Irvin, who is the CEO of the Fire. This is due in large part to the efforts of Illini assistant coach Jerrance Howard, who has undoubtedly been the driving force behind getting all of the Illini's prospective recruits to attend The World's Biggest Basketball Practice. Irvin has offered nothing but praise for Howard and the job he has done.

As a result, Abrams has now ascended to the top of Weber's priority list amongst recruits from the class of 2011. There is no question that Weber wants to land a quality point guard, but he wants it to come from the 2011 class--it doesn't have to come from either the classes of 2009 or 2010. He would ultimately love to have either Abrams, Thompson, or 6'2 Chasson Randle from Rock Island, who will also be in attendance on Saturday. Right now any of the three are realistic possibilities.

In addition, the top-ranked prospects in the state from the classes of 2012 and 2013--5'10 point guard Antonio "Bobo" Drummond from Peoria Central and 6'6 Alex Foster from Plainfield respectively--will also be attending the festivities. Other recruits who will be on hand include 6'7 Illini commit Jereme Richmond, who is our top-ranked player in Illinois from the class of 2010, and a pair of commits from the class of 2009--6'3 D.J. Richardson (originally from Peoria Central and now at Findlay Prep in Nevada) and 6'3 Brandon Paul from Warren--who will both be taking their official visits.

The World's Biggest Basketball Practice offers yet another classic example of why Jerrance Howard has rapidly become one of the best recruiters among any assistant coach in college basketball. Simply put, he is an innovator. For proof, let's take a look at what happened at the University of Kentucky not long after Illinois announced it's plans for the World's Biggest Basketball Practice. Once the University of Illinois marketing department received NCAA approval to hold the event on October 11, six days before the NCAA's official start date for college basketball practice, Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie decided to have the Wildcats' Blue Madness moved up from October 17 to October 10. His primary incentive behind doing so was to try to gain a recruiting advantage. However, let's make one thing abundantly clear--it was the University of Illinois that was the trend-setter here. They are the ones who lobbied to have a practice scheduled ahead of the official start date and Kentucky then followed suit.

It is undeniable that Gillispie and Wildcat assistant coach Tracy Webster would have loved to have had all of the outstanding underclass talent from Chicago in attendance at Blue Madness. As it turns out, they will all be in Champaign-Urbana that day. In fact, it may be the greatest assemblage of high school basketball talent on the Illini campus at the same time in their recruiting history. This is due in large part to the efforts of Howard.

In summing up the overall significance of the upcoming weekend, it can definitely be argued that Howard has beaten Gillispie at his own game. Make no mistake about it--the battle lines between Illinois and Kentucky were drawn quite some time ago, probably going back to when Webster was hired at Kentucky. We realize that it may not prove to be the end-all, but it seems to us that round one has undoubtedly gone to Howard and the Illini.

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How many top-ranked kids do you have in 2010? I counted Head and Richmond from this article. Anymore we should know about? ;)

Roy & Harv Respond:

Glad to see you read our blog so thoroughly. If you are looking for a job as a proof-reader we have some bad news: we are not hiring. Seriously, the Crandall Head ranking was a typo and should have said that he is our #2 ranked player in the class of 2010. That sentence has since been edited to reflect what it was supposed to say. Now with that out of the way, can we get some actual comments and reaction to the blog as a whole?

I think its unbelievable how an assistant coach, not a head coach but an assistant coach, has almost single handedly turned around the culture of losing out on top prospects, generally, at Illinois.

Having the top prospects of the '09, '10, '11, '12 (Drummond), and '13 (Foster) is an unreal accomplishment. Even if a few dont show up, its unbelievable.

The '09 Class will set a very solid foundation, then you add on the incredible class of '10 and perhaps an even more incredible class of '11 (if thats possible?), and Illinois basketball is perhaps looking at a period of unprecedented success.

frankly, I wouldn't read the Sun Times if it weren't for you guys. I'm an avid Illini booster and enjoy your updates. Glad to see Howard succeed. His love for Illinois was eveident even as he rode the bench. It was always proof to me of his character, not just talk about it. Thanks for the nice post.

Great article again guys. I just wish that you all would come out with these more often (but I know you can't).

Your article didn't mention Donivine Stewart though. Wasn't he once a top priority for the Orange and Blue, or has he sort of fell off the radar due to the emergence of Abrams and Randle?

Can you imagine a Randle, Shaw, Abrams, class? What if they got Thompson and Blackshear too? This is amazing news for Illinois and I look forward to rooting for them in the Big Ten and beyond.

Again great article guys! You all give some of the most reliable info in the game! Keep up the good work.

Roy & Harv Respond:

Stewart is definitely still in the mix--he simply hasn't been mentioned as much recently due to the fact that the Illini are presently in good standing with Abrams, Randle and Thompson. Not sure about Stewart's attendance on Saturday for TWBBP.

Thank you for an extremely valuable post and great read. What a difference a year or so makes in recruiting and what a job Jerrance Howard is doing. His enthusiam and work ethic are resonating throughout Illini nation and college basketball. Coach Weber and staff deserve this type of attention because they go about recruiting the right way! I like to say Coach Weber is a great coach and a better person....Good luck this weekend and lets hope we can strike gold while the iron is hot. Go Illini!!

Great article guys. It's rewarding to see the Illini coaches finally reaping the benefits for "playing by the rules". Enthusiasm, integrity, hardwork and dedication are still the traits that built this country...even though many people no longer practice them! I love your articles too, because they always represent honest, fact based reporting...again a trait seldom seen in today's media. With Weber, Zook and their great staffs it looks like bright days ahead for the Illini...I salute them all. My dad & I still have our "I love Harv" buttons. Keep up the great work guys, it's really appreciated...even 5000 miles from the heartland!

One year ago it was Bruce Weber getting all the blame for his recruiting failures. Now Jerrance Howard is getting all the credit for any recruiting success.
Knowing how insecure Bruce Weber is, this must really chap his hide.

Roy & Harv Respond:

We highly doubt it.

Just having all those top prospects considering the Illini is hard to belive.Illinois needs to make sure Jarence Howard dosn't go anywhere!!!!


It is great that Illinois is getting the best of this state. All of the years Duke, North Carolina, Arizona, and heaven forbid, Memphis seemed to be so popular. I never understood why the Illini were not "Chicago's team".

With all of the talent in Illinois, I would like to see other top hoop schools like UIC, ISU, Bradley, NIU, and SIU continue to win. I miss the days when a Walt Frazier (SIU), Doug Collins (ISU), and others would give the Big Ten (and about everyone else) a good run and match-ups were "barn burners" on cold winter nights. Although I am an Illini alum and fan, I love cheering for the "mid majors", and wish they had more exposure in the media.

Anyway, great blog and I always loved Harv. Would love to see Weber's program become a regular success like Coach K's

One of the main reasons the Suntimes has a great sports section is because of your articles. Weber and Howard are doing a great job of helping the Illini get back to being a national power..Keep the illini updates coming like you been all year long.

You guys do a great job on your blog. THanks for the insightful, thorough information regarding the Fighting Illini.

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This page contains a single entry by Roy & Harv Schmidt published on October 8, 2008 3:00 PM.

Purdue Lands Key Class Of 2010 Prospect From Chicago was the previous entry in this blog.

Could A Class Of 2011 Prospect Commit Early? Maybe!! is the next entry in this blog.

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