Tomorrow afternoon we'll either be writing one of our last articles about Cliff Alexander or the first of a great and wonderful yearlong deluge. It's an exciting/annoying/terrifying time and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. It's great for our site and it's pretty damn fun from a speculative point.
When's the last time a top five prospect even honestly had Illinois as a choice going into the last day? Eric Gordon?
That was seven recruiting classes ago. In college sports, that's a freaking lifetime. Cliff Alexander was still in elementary school back then. That's insane to think about. If you're near my age (and since you're reading an article on an SBN site, the odds are in favor of that), Cliff would be the top Illini basketball recruit of our lifetimes. I don't even really know how to process such a thing. For perspective, the last time this happened to Kansas, the likely final opponent for his services (I don't believe it's DePaul), was last season. And in 2010. There's a precedent for stuff like this in Lawrence.
Cliff coming to Champaign could start that.
But that's still just an if. And even then, there's no guarantee he wouldn't turn into another Josh Selby and not do much in his only year in the college game (though he won't as long as there are no hidden eligibility issues). There's also the chance this could be like the many top recruits Ron Zook landed for the football program, ultimately accomplishing next to nothing with all that talent. John Groce has only coached one season in a major conference and we've all but anointed him the savior of the school. I'm just as guilty of it as you and while I do believe tremendously in the man's ability to recruit and coach, maybe we should put away the bronze and chisels until at least an Elite Eight run.
The recruiting has already been trending in the best possible direction since Groce took over. Last year's recruiting class was ranked 20th by 24/7's composite rankings. This year's is already 13th. With Cliff? That jumps up into the top 10 for sure and likely in the top 5 with a chance to supplant Thad Matta's Buckeyes as the top class in the conference.
Think about that.
Sure, there's the scholarship crunch to worry about if he says yes. But that's tomorrow's problem. Tonight is all about hope and unrealistic dreams.
That being said, I have one thing to remind you about whatever happens tomorrow. Cliff Alexander may be a physical freak of nature born to play basketball and raise the hopes of whatever team he chooses' fanbase, but he's still just 17-years-old. If he doesn't choose Illinois, it's not the end of the world. Will it suck? Yeah, for a little while. But if he ever gets to play Illinois after that, I hope that he doesn't get the Eric Gordon treatment. Looking back on that now makes me feel pretty damned dirty, even though I was fine with it at the time.
I was 18. 18-year-olds make dumb decisions.
If Cliff picks Kansas (or DePaul by some sort of miracle), wish him well and move on. Don't harass him. Don't send him stupid tweets. Don't bother Taylor Rooks. Just let it end and move on.
But if he does choose Illinois? Celebrate.Celebrate your orange and blue ass off.