It took much longer than originally anticipated, but John Groce has finally recruited another lead guard to Champaign. During an announcement ceremony on Wednesday afternoon, 2016 point guard Te'Jon Lucas committed to the Fighting Illini over Southern Cal and Old Dominion; he became the first member of Illinois' recruiting class in the process.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I am Proud to say I have officially Committed to the University of Illinois <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FightingIllini?src=hash">#FightingIllini</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/illinoisCommit?src=hash">#illinoisCommit</a></p>— Te'Jon Lucas (@too_smoove23) <a href="https://twitter.com/too_smoove23/status/644306289074565124">September 17, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
The Milwaukee, WI native is ranked as the No. 196 player in 247Sports' composite rankings; Scout, however, has Lucas pegged as the No. 118 overall prospect, which puts him in four-star territory. Apart from his final list of three schools, the 6'1 guard also received interest from Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Texas, Butler, California, and Memphis throughout the process.
Lucas had a big Summer on the AAU circuit. After turning heads throughout the NY2LA Summer Jam, Lucas was invited to attend the NBA Top 100 camp in Charlottesville, VA; it was around this time when the Illini offered him a scholarship. Lucas eventually took an unofficial visit to Champaign on August 7th and that was followed up with an in-home visit from John Groce on September 9th.
Lucas may not be the most flashy addition, but that shouldn't take anything away from his potential impact on the program. Illinois has been the victim of far too many heartbreaking recruitments over the past four years, particularly when going after point guards (i.e. Demetrius Jackson, Quinten Snider, Jawun Evans, and Jalen Brunson). But, finally, the Illini have managed to fill their No. 1 need with a Big Ten-caliber player.
Right now, Lucas' biggest asset is his elite court vision and decision making; recruiting analyst Cory Evans even went as far as saying that he's "one of the top five passing point guards in the class of 2016." You can probably toss his athleticism into that conversation as well (don't see guys at his height dunking too often). Lucas' jump shot doesn't appear to be the most consistent aspect of his game, but it's improving and it'll give the Illini a much needed scoring threat from the position.
But here's the other thing -- Lucas is very young compared to other players in this class (think Malcolm Hill). He's just starting to turn a corner in his development and, honestly, it's almost unfair to already be projecting his talent two, three years down the road. So there's some definite upside, but with that could come some more immediate concerns about getting acclimated to the physicality at the next level.
I'm still not 100% sold that Lucas will come in and be the starter from Day 1. There's a chance he could be going up against two seniors in Tracy Abrams and Jaylon Tate and they'll have a sizable head start on the job. But I do believe Lucas will be the most talented option the moment he reports to campus.
Either way, Lucas can be inserted into a lineup that will already feature Malcolm Hill (senior), Kendrick Nunn (senior), Leron Black (junior), and Jalen Coleman-Lands (sophomore/redshirt freshman). The Illini still, obviously, need to find themselves another big man, but that's one talented group of players.
2016 Recruiting Impact
Illinois has two remaining scholarships for the 2016 recruiting class. That figure could increase to three if Tracy Abrams doesn't come back to play for a sixth year. Lucas is a great start to the group, but there's still plenty of work to be done.
Four-star small forward Xavier Sneed (Florissant, MO) took an official visit to Illinois the weekend of August 29th. There's no public timetable for a decision, but he's expected to announce shortly after wrapping up his upcoming visit to Xavier. The addition of Lucas will presumably make Illinois a more attractive destination for Sneed.
However a commitment from Sneed -- or any other wing for that matter -- still wouldn't solve Illinois' impending frontcourt problems. The big men most commonly associated with the Illini are four-star center James Banks (IN) and three-star power forward Clevon Brown (TX). Of those two, Brown appears to be the most likely to eventually suit up for the Orange and Blue, but it's going to be an uphill battle as the Illini got involved relatively late. The good news is that John Groce and Dustin Ford traveled to Texas on September 10th to conduct an in-home visit with the big man, so there definitely appears to be at least some mutual interest. If things down pan out with Brown, look for the coaching staff to target at least one fifth year transfer at the position next offseason.
But none of that matters right now because Illinois just landed a pure point guard for the first time since October 4th, 2012. Assuming his original plans hold up, Lucas will be in Champaign for his official visit this weekend -- that's your first opportunity to see the newest Illini.