Five-star players, difference-makers, program-changers, franchise-turners.
Call them what you like. In football and basketball, they are the elite athletes who put people in the seats, take teams from the outhouse to the penthouse and create a buzz unlike any other.
They have talent, of course, but they also have distinctive leadership qualities, charisma and star appeal that captivate the media and a pied piper personality that attracts other gifted athletes.
Oscar Robertson, Bill Bradley and Jerry West had some or all of those qualities.
In Illinois, the list includes Cazzie Russell, Quinn Buckner, Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre and Derrick Rose.
It is interesting to note that none of the above attended the University of Illinois. In fact, the truth is none of them seriously considered playing college basketball in Champaign-Urbana.
As Illini Nation mends the wounds from what surely was one of the most disappointing seasons in Illinois basketball history, only three years removed from the program's finest hour, it has to wonder why Illinois coaches from Harry Combes to Bruce Weber haven't been able to recruit a homegrown product who can turn Illinois into a perennial national contender.
Weber, apparently frustrated by his inability to sign Rose, Jon Scheyer, Julian Wright or Sherron Collins, has adopted a new recruiting strategy. He dipped into the freshman and sophomore classes and landed commitments from some of the best young prospects in the state. He hopes some or all of them will develop into big-time stars.
He is betting that he can produce an NCAA contender with four-year players instead of a one-and-done type like Rose or Eric Gordon or Michael Beasley or O.J. Mayo or Kevin Love.
Will Jereme Richmond become another Cazzie Russell or Mark Aguirre? As one of the top five sophomores in the nation, according to most analysts, he is projected to be in that class. Will Crandall Head become another Quinn Buckner? Will Brandon Paul become another Isiah Thomas? Will D.J. Richardson become another Derrick Rose?
It is too early to speculate, of course. For one reason or another, some of the most ballyhooed players in state history--remember Raymond McCoy, Glen Grunwald, Jamie Brandon, Howard Nathan and Ronnie Fields?--didn't play up to expectations beyond high school.
As underclassmen, neither Paul nor Head or Richmond nor Richardson nor Joseph Bertrand has played up to the level of those five--at least up to this point. Only time will tell if one of them will develop into a franchise-turner, a lottery pick, the kind of player who can take Illinois to the NCAA championship.