I mentioned that Illinois had offered juco guard Desmond Lee in The Stalker a few weeks ago, and John Groce spent his Valentine's Day in New Mexico meeting Lee in person. Which was a lovely gift to Allison Groce, who joined her husband on the trip.
Lee's team lost the game Groce saw, but Desmond scored 22 points and grabbed 5 rebounds and according to Lee it was a meeting that went well. Lee told IlliniHQ.com that the Illini are definitely in contention for his services.
"I'm really interested in them," he said. "I'm thinking about them, and they're definitely in the race.
"The guards are really big in [Groce's] program, and he's really trying to build something at Illinois. Illinois is not a bad school at all."
Lee could be a very useful addition to next year's class with both Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson leaving after this season. His presence would make the transition from high school to college much easier for a guy like Kendrick Nunn so we're not all expecting Nunn to step foot on campus and fill all the points Paul and Richardson left behind.
Of course, there are some stumbling blocks keeping Lee from Illinois. First of all, he has offers from Arkansas, Alabama, Baylor, Creighton, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami and North Carolina State just to name a few, so it's not like Groce and the Illini don't have competition for his services.
The other problem is that the Illini will likely need to open space on the roster with a transfer of their own, though it was announced yesterday that Kevin Berardini will forego his eligibility next season since he graduates this year. Of course, Berardini was a walk-on, so that doesn't help the scholarship status.
There have been rumors over at Illinois Loyalty that Mike Shaw and Myke Henry will transfer after the season, though I don't know how much credence we should put in them. If Shaw transferred I wouldn't be shocked, but Henry leaving would be a surprise as his role has grown in recent weeks. I would think he'd find plenty of minutes here next season without Paul and Richardson around.
-- I never thought it was a real possibility but I wrote last month that the Illini should take a run at former Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers after he was Johnny Football'd out of a job last season. Well, now it's officially not going to happen as Showers is transferring to UTEP. So at least I got the school colors right.
-- On Saturday the Illini will play Nebraska at Assembly Hall in what is not only senior night but a celebration of 50 years of Assembly Hall. It will also be the place that a number of 2014 football recruits make an unofficial visit in advance of next week's junior day. Including 2013 commit Miguel Hermosillo there will be nine juniors, headlined by four-star offensive tackle Rodrick Johnson, defensive end Nile Sykes (#12 prospect in the state) and Indianapolis linebacker Brandon Lee.
-- John Groce visited St. Rita 2015 guard Charles Matthews last week, considered the top player from Illinois in the 2015 class. The five-star guard has offers from Illinois, DePaul and SMU already, but he said he's also been talking to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Arizona. Though don't expect an announcement any time soon as Matthews says he won't decide until his senior season.
-- "Champaign is great, I can see myself playing in that orange and blue for four more years," said 2014 athlete Lonnie Johnson last week. The 6'2, 180-pound Johnson also said he's prefer to play wide receiver rather than cornerback in college, though he can do both. He has offers from Kentucky, Nebraska and Ohio State along with one from Illinois.
-- Four star 2014 running back Justin Jackson says he hasn't heard from Illinois much since Luke Butkus left, but he also told IlliniHQ that Illinois is "still there. I was a fan growing up. It's the home state school, and I've talked to their coaches quite a bit in the past. They're pretty high on me."