The Illini managed to land their point guard back in 2013, but a last-second decommitment on National Signing Day has resulted in an ongoing 19 month scramble by the coaching staff as they've attempted to land another player at the position. Has Illinois been plagued by an extraordinary amount of bad luck during this period of time? Without a doubt. But the bottom line is that John Groce is still searching for a quality lead guard that can lead his program into the future.
Recruits are even starting to mention the situation during interviews.
"I like [Illinois'] style of play. They set a lot of ball screens and find shooters. I think they’ve been struggling with getting a point guard. That might be the issue keeping them from being a real good team. That might be their missing piece." ~ Alterique Gilbert ('16 PG, No. 53 recruit)
Wednesday saw the latest entry in the saga when Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis committed to the Oregon Ducks over Illinois and Baylor. To be clear, Ennis wasn't a long term solution because he only has one year of eligibility remaining, but he would've given a huge boost to a program that desperately needs to make the NCAA Tournament next season.
So what's next for the Illini?
The instant answer many fans will have to that question is Marcus LoVett. But is Illinois still recruiting him? An assistant coach was sent to watch him in Indianapolis a few weekends ago, but that's the only shred of actual news we have that links the two parties since the IHSA playoffs in early March. Combine this fact with the recent flurry of scholarship offers to point guards in the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes and, in my opinion, it's fairly obvious that the coaching staff has turned their attention elsewhere.
Luckily, it appears that Groce has another backup plan. UT-Arlington transfer Johnny Hill arrived in Champaign on Wednesday night and will be touring the campus on Thursday. The ex-Illinois State guard averaged 9.6 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.0 turnovers per game in his one and only season with the Mavericks. Hill, who has also heard from Baylor, Purdue, and Drake, is a graduate transfer so he'd be able to use his last remaining year of eligibility immediately.
It's a great sign that he's already visiting, but don't expect this recruitment to be a complete layup. The pitch for Hill is essentially, "Hey, we have one open scholarship. Tracy Abrams will be our starting point guard, but we'd love to bring you in to compete against Jaylon Tate for the backup spot." Purdue, for instance, can boast about the success of Jon Octeus while potentially offering a spot in the starting lineup.
|Tracy Abrams (2013-14)||35||30.1||10.7||3.5||3.2||1.2||1.9||.333||.772||.270|
|Johnny Hill (2014-15)||22||25.7||9.6||4.1||3.4||1.2||3.0||.460||.688||.250|
|Jaylon Tate (2014-15)||32||20.4||3.6||1.2||2.9||0.8||1.4||.368||.843||.083
So, obviously, Hill wouldn't come in and make a huge impact, but I think he could be a nice addition to the team. He'd definitely provide some much needed depth behind Abrams.
Note: actual information ends here
So how will this all play out in 2015 and beyond?
I think Illinois will eventually land Hill. If not, then it's possible Jalen Coleman-Lands could see some minutes at the position. I feel pretty confident in saying that the Illini will land a point guard in the 2016 recruiting class; it probably won't be anyone that can make an instant impact, but it'll at least be someone. The early candidates are the aforementioned Alterique Gilbert, Xavier Simpson, Bryce Aiken, C.J. Walker, Tony Carr, and Lamar Peters. You can click here for a complete list of Illinois' targets.
With a new body on the 2016 roster, the coaching staff would be able to swing for the fences in 2017. They've already offered scholarships to Alonzo Verge Jr. (IL), DaMonte Williams (IL), Nojel Eastern (IL), and Paul Scruggs (IN); all four players appear to be on track to become top players at the position.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that fans should be a bit more patient. Illinois will almost certainly not be adding a dynamic, game-changing, one-and-done potential point guard until at least 2017. And that's ok--as long as the team manages to do better than the NIT.