Illinois and John Groce have become pretty popular at Chicago's Simeon High School in the last year. Both Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate are Simeon standouts who also happen to be members of John Groce's first recruiting class at Illinois, and according to Simeon head coach Robert Smith, the only thing that kept Simeon's Jabari Parker from joining his teammates was timing.
Smith told ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers that had Groce been hired earlier at Illinois he thinks Parker would be getting ready to spend the next season in Champaign rather than at Duke.
"If Illinois had hired John Groce earlier, they would have had chance with Jabari," Smith said. "He was hired too late and Jabari was already looking at other schools. He wanted to play for his home state and win a national championship here.
"[I think Groce had a chance with Parker] because of his personality, him as a coach -- he let his players play -- and his charisma. I know Jaylon and Kendrick love him as a coach and person. I think that has a lot to do with them going there."
Of course, there's no way we're landing Jabari Parker now, but Smith still thinks the future is pretty bright at Illinois with Groce at the helm. Just how bright?
Well, while Smith thinks "it can happen" with Cliff Alexander and other Chicago players of his ilk, he doesn't just think landing Chicago's best is as far as the Illini can go. He's thinking titles.
"I think Illinois has a real chance in the next three or four years to really do some things," said Smith. "I could see them go to the Final Four and possibly win a national championship in the next three or four years.
"It's just like the vision I had for Illinois when I was interested in the job. It's playing out without me being there. Coach Groce is doing a great job with that."
Now, I'm not going to sit here and pretend I think the Illini are going to win a national title in the next three or four years, but I will admit it's nice to hear one of the most important high school coaches in the Chicago area feels that way. Even if it's 80% smoke being blown up asses. When guys like Smith are saying things like this publicly other coaches in the Chicago area notice and when the coaches notice, the players notice. And when the players notice?
Well, that's when some great things start happening.
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