The 2015 recruiting cycle has been full of ups and downs for Illinois Basketball. The program has managed to sign a top ten class nationally as D.J. Williams, Aaron Jordan, Jalen Coleman-Lands, and Darius Paul are already in the fold. However, several high-profile misses--Charles Matthews, Jalen Brunson, Jawun Evans, Elijah Thomas, and Carlton Bragg to name a few--have had a bit of a negative impact on fans' perception of the class.
The bottom line is that Illinois is heading into year four of the John Groce era and the program is still searching for both a quality point guard and big man. There's still a glimmer of hope on the point guard front for 2015. Morgan Park's Marcus LoVett Jr. is currently the lone remaining target in the class and it appears likely that he could be Illinois-bound after his senior season concludes. However that's a discussion for another article.
Today we're going to be covering the names you should know in the 2016 recruiting class. As of now, the Illini have two scholarships available and they'll almost certainly be filled by a PG and PF/C--although there have been several offers given to talented wing players.
More names will undoubtedly surface over the next several months, but below is the current list of the program's 2016 targets.
(Note: * denotes scholarship offer)
Jamal Murray* | Toronto, Ontario
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 59
Notable Offers: Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oregon, Syracuse, Missouri
Jamal Murray is an interesting case because it sounds like he's leaning towards reclassifying to 2015. What exactly does that mean? It means that he can choose to graduate this Spring and play in college this Fall. If/when that happens, look for Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, and Oregon to become the major players for his services.
Jermaine Haley* | Burnaby, British Columbia
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 138
Notable Offers: Illinois, Indiana, Washington, Gonzaga, Louisville, Maryland, Oregon
Haley committed to Washington back in July, but proceeded to decommit shortly thereafter. At 6'7, Haley is probably more of a combo guard, but he's certainly capable of initiating an offense. I wouldn't say that Illinois is likely to land the Canadian's talents, but Dustin Ford's relationships up north will pay off eventually. He's definitely a name to keep an eye on.
Alterique Gilbert* | Lithonia, GA
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 52
Notable Offers: Illinois, Maryland, Florida State, Georgia
Illinois offered Gilbert a scholarship last month. We haven't heard a whole lot about him since then, but UConn and Memphis have started to show interest in the junior guard. It's too early in Gilbert's recruitment to give even an educated guess on his destination.
Xavier Simpson* | Lima, OH
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 86
Notable Offers: Illinois, Xavier
Illinois offered at the right time because this recruitment is really starting to accelerate. In addition to the Illini and Xavier, Simpson has received interest from Northwestern and Ohio State (unofficial visit this Summer). According to Kedric Prince, Simpson will be in Champaign for a visit next weekend. This could very well be in an effort to force the hand of, say, Marcus LoVett, but Simpson would be a great addition to the program regardless.
Bryce Aiken* | Elizabeth, NJ
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 97
Notable Offers: Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Auburn, Miami (FL)
Aiken was receiving some major interest from Maryland, but that changed once the Terps received a commitment from Anthony Cowan. Again, too early to give any sort of prediction.
Zach Norvell* | Chicago, IL (Simeon)
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 69
Notable Offers: Illinois, Memphis, Oklahoma
Will the Simeon pipeline continue with Zach Norvell? If it does, he could very well be the next No. 25 since fellow teammate and Illini signee D.J. Williams will most likely be wearing No. 0. Anyway, Norvell has taken at least two unofficial visits to Champaign (October 2013 and last week); there's obviously some genuine interest between the two parties, but the Illini are already loaded on the wing for years to come.
Jayson Tatum* | St. Louis, MO
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 3
Notable Offers: Illinois, St. Louis, Missouri, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, and many more
Jayson Tatum is just stupid good and has "NBA Super Star" written all over him. If you want a nice laugh, you can watch him just toy with Villanova signee Jalen Brunson and Stevenson high school in the above video. It's hard to imagine Tatum going anywhere other than Duke, but Illinois and St. Louis will be major players in this recruitment until the end. Yes, St. Louis University has a legitimate chance at landing Tatum (father and godfather played there). Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker was teammates with Tatum's father at SLU--thus the relationship with Illinois.
V.J. King* | Akron, OH
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 18
Notable Offers: Illinois, Ohio State, UConn, Georgetown, Louisville, and many more
V.J. King isn't coming to Illinois, I've only listed him because he holds an offer. Look for him to be suiting up for Ohio State in the future.
Ben Coupet | Chicago, IL (Simeon)
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 185
Notable Offers: Bradley
Coupet is another member of the Simeon Wolverines, but as of now it doesn't appear that he'll be receiving an offer from the Illini. In addition to Illinois and Bradley, Michigan, Michigan State, and UCLA have shown a bit of interest.
Rapolas Ivanauskas | Barrington, IL (Barrington)
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 109
Notable Offers: Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue
I, admittedly, don't know a whole lot about Ivanauskas. However he's starting to pick up interest from the likes of UCLA, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin in addition to the schools that have already offered. He's in Illinois' backyard so it's obviously worth keeping an eye on his development.
Nolan Narain* | LaPorte, IN (La Lumiere)
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 83
Notable Offers: Illinois, Gonzaga, Florida, San Diego State, Kansas State, Vanderbilt
Nolan Narain is another Canadian native, but he attends La Lumiere Prep with Illini signee Jalen Coleman-Lands; I got to see him in person last month and came away impressed. He's athletic, has a great frame, can run the floor, good rebounder, can shoot; he just seems like John Groce's ideal post player. Hopefully Illinois can close the deal on Narain--he'd be a fantastic addition. No YouTube highlights here because the options weren't very good, you're just going to have to trust that 'assessment'.
Tony Bradley* | Bartow, FL
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 36
Notable Offers: Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Miami
The Illini offered Bradley a scholarship last Summer--that's all I can really tell you about him. Another very quiet recruitment so far.
Nick Rakocevic* | Westchester, IL (St. Joseph)
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 78
Notable Offers: Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, Indiana, UCLA
Rakocevic has a great set of skills, but I don't believe he'll end up wearing the Orange and Blue. That's not to say Illinois won't do their best to land him, but look for UCLA, Florida, and Duke (if they end up offering) to be his strongest suitors.
Marques Bolden* | DeSoto, TX
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 20
Notable Offers: Illinois, Baylor, Kansas, Nebraska, SMU
Again, not a whole lot of news surrounding Bolden since Illinois offered him in August. Kansas, along with any other pending blue-blood interest, will be the competition here.
Barret Benson* | Darien, IL (Hinsdale South)
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 92
Notable Offers: Illinois, Purdue, Iowa State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Indiana
Semi-Professional opinion/guess: Barret Benson will be Illinois' first commitment of the 2016 class. It just makes too much sense. The Illinois native's low post presence and hustle would fit perfectly with the program's needs and identity. The Illini offered Benson a scholarship two weeks ago and John Groce has since traveled to the suburbs to watch him in person.
Isaac Humphries* | La Porte, IN (La Lumiere)
247Sports Composite Ranking: No. 30
Notable Offers: Illinois, Kansas, Arizona
The Australian native also plays for a stacked La Lumiere squad. I wasn't too impressed while watching him last month (a lot of standing around), but the potential is obviously there. A commitment from Humphries would be a major upgrade to Illinois' frontline. Hopefully Coleman-Lands has been putting in a good word for Groce.
The Illini currently have two scholarships available for the 2016 class and they're in desperate need of a quality point guard and big man. Keep an eye on Jamal Murray (who could reclassify to 2015), Jermaine Haley, Xavier Simpson, Nolan Narain, Isaac Humphries, and Barret Benson for those two areas. A few other names you should remember are Zach Norvell, Jayson Tatum, and Nick Rakocevic.