By Roy & Harv Schmidt
We told everyone in a previous blog back in October that Jerrance Howard and the University of Illinois had completely turned the tables in the recruitment of Tracy Abrams. Right then and there we knew that the Illini were the leader for Abrams' services. What we did not know was that the Illini coaching staff would be able to close the deal so quickly. With that in mind, we firmly believe that the dominos are just beginning to fall into place regarding Bruce Weber's recruitment of the 2011 class. Quite frankly, while we don't know what the time frame will be, we would be surprised at this point if other prized 2011 recruits don't ultimately pledge their commitments to the Illini.
We have to admit that we would have never predicted that Abrams would be the first player from the loaded 2011 class in Illinois to render a verbal commitment. In fact, at the end of the July evaluation period our prediction on the Illini's first 2011 commitment would have been 6'2 guard Chasson Randle from Rock Island, as rumor had surfaced at that time that Randle was a strong Illini lean and could be on the verge of commiting.
However, things changed when Illini assistant coach Jerrance Howard learned that Reggie Rose, who is Abrams' AAU coach, was not the one in control of the Abrams recruitment. At that point, Howard went full-speed ahead in his effort to close the deal on Abrams and worked non-stop to get it done. Howard was absolutely relentless in his follow-up, as he watched Abrams play at both the Lane Tech Thanksgiving Tournament and the CPS Boy's Basketball Shootout once the high school season started. To say that this made a huge impression on Abrams is a gross understatement. Just another example of why Howard has rapidly become one of the premier recruiters in all of college basketball.
There is also something to be said about the fact that the Illini were the only school to offer Abrams a scholarship, which they did immediately upon him making his first visit to Champaign. This is a factor that has undoubtedly become of prime importance with respect to getting elite-level prospects to commit early, and such was the case with Abrams. While Abrams also visited Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, none of those schools came forward with scholarship offers. Our colleague Michael O'Brien asked us why no one else stepped up to the plate to offer Abrams after Illinois did so, and while we don't have a definite answer, our response was that perhaps the other schools recruiting Abrams already knew what the rest of us didn't know at the time, in other words that it was a done deal.
But now on to the question that everyone wants answered. With Abrams now in the fold, what everyone wants to know is how his commitment will impact future Illini recruiting in the class of 2011. As we have indicated before, the answer is that when it comes to 2011, the Illini's future is limitless. In fact it has probably never been brighter. We have always said that when one great player pulls the trigger and offers up an early commitment, it often prompts others to follow suit. With that being said, we think that could very well end up being the case for Weber and the Illini.
At the present time, we have every reason to believe that Illinois is in great shape with Mike Shaw, the 6'7 forward from De LaSalle and our #1 ranked player in the state from the 2011 class. Abrams and Shaw are very good friends and have already expressed a strong desire to possibly play on the same college team. While it has been stated that many of the top players in the class of 2011 would love to have Abrams as a teammate, we know for a fact that there are plenty who would be overjoyed to join forces with Shaw as well.
Another player who could be heavily impacted is Randle. While other schools recruiting Randle will undoubtedly try to up the ante now that Abrams has pledged to Illinois, we are telling everyone that the Illini coaching staff is still recruiting Randle and will now try to sell him on the idea of playing in the same back court with Abrams. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this one develops.
And then there are the AAU implications. While Abrams' current traveling team is the Chicago Express, he has also played sparingly for the Mac Irvin Fire and there has been some talk that Abrams could possibly join forces with the Fire on a permanent basis come next spring. All of which is important, because there is no question that the Illini coaching staff has made huge in-roads with Mac Irvin, the CEO of the Fire and one of the most influential high school basketball figures in Chicago. In case anyone hasn't noticed, other members of the Fire include 6'4 class of 2010 guard Crandall Head from Crane, who is also an Illini commit, as well as Shaw, 6'5 forward Wayne Blackshear from Curie and 6'5 wing Sam Thompson from Whitney Young, all of whom are among the Illini's top recruiting priorities in 2011. And then there are the rumors surrounding the possibility of yet another Illini commit, 6'7 Jereme Richmond from Waukegan (who is our #1 ranked player in Illinois from the class of 2010) joining the Fire as well. Does everyone get our drift?
As we have also previously indicated, ideally speaking the Illini coaching staff would like to be able to land at least two 2011 prospects from amongst Shaw, Blackshear and Thompson and then pair Abrams with either Randle or possibly 5'10 point guard Donovine Stewart from Bartonville Limestone. While all of this may have been nothing more than a mere afterthought a year ago, we now believe that it is something that is clearly within the realm of possibility.