Josh Whitman elected to sit out the 2016 iteration of the college basketball coaching carousel, but the moves from other programs are starting to impact the Fighting Illini. On Friday, Georgia Tech made a puzzling decision to hire Josh Pastner as their new head coach. Before leaving Memphis, however, Pastner landed a commitment from four-star point guard and Illinois 'Mr. Basketball' award-winner Charlie Moore (Chicago, IL).
Moore, who proceeded to re-open his recruitment almost immediately after the news broke, was one of Illinois' top targets last Fall. The five-foot-ten, 165-pound Morgan Park HS product has already heard from Wisconsin, Northwestern, Georgia Tech, and a host of other high-major programs.
So is time for the Illini to get involved again?
The answer is complicated, and this is quickly shaping up to be a no-win situation for John Groce. Let's first address why Illinois is in this situation to begin with.
Illinois really liked Charlie Moore, and there were even rumors of a potential verbal commitment last September. Unfortunately, Moore's father was dealing with some health issues at the time so their camp decided to slow the process down a bit. The issue with that from Illinois' perspective? The Illini couldn't afford to wait any longer to land a guard -- and they didn't. Groce showed no hesitation in accepting a commitment from three-star guard Te'Jon Lucas (Milwaukee, WI), and that was that. Moore had missed his chance.
A few Chicago basketball writers and AAU teams may argue that this was an egregious error by Illinois -- especially given the circumstances with Moore's father -- but those tweets/statements/etc. prove they haven't the slightest clue, to be quite frank. Illinois needed a damn point guard. It's as simple as that. Groce came up empty-handed while playing the exact same waiting game a year ago with Jalen Brunson and Jawun Evans.
So great job, Coach, you 10/10 made the correct decision in this instance.
The Roster Concerns
Could John Groce make this work given the current scholarship situation?
The Fighting Illini have 11 out of 13 scholarships officially filled for the 2016-17 season; Tracy Abrams is expected to receive a waiver for a sixth year, so that figure will likely increase to 12 very soon. So, when Mike Thorne Jr.'s hardship request inevitably gets denied by the NCAA, there will be one available spot on the active roster. There could be 1-3 more openings depending on the legal statuses of Leron Black, Kendrick Nunn, and Jaylon Tate, but let's continue on with the assumption that all three will be back.
Note: You can ignore the rest of this post if another scholarship opens up in the near future. The Illini should absolutely recruit Moore no matter what in that scenario.
So there probably will be an open scholarship -- cool. Would using that lone offer on another point guard make sense? In short, nope.
Believe me, I fully understand that the team's point guard situation still isn't very ideal, but there's a far more pressing need for another big man. Illinois' only returning front court players are Maverick Morgan, Michael Finke, and maybe Leron Black. Putting potential player improvement aside, that is not a formula for success. What happens if the Illini get in foul trouble? What happens if that unit gets hit with another injury?
Groce might be able to make things work in this situation by sliding Malcolm Hill back down to the '4', but c'mon, he's been playing out of position for his entire Illinois career. He's not a point guard. He's not a forward (at least in the traditional sense). No, Malcolm Hill is a wing -- please play him there.
In my opinion, the coaching staff would be best served using the last scholarship to bring in another fifth-year big man as a graduate transfer.
The [Point Guard] Situation
Three-star point guard Te'Jon Lucas has already signed a letter of intent to join Illinois. But, as Jeremy Werner discussed the other day, Lucas and Moore could absolutely compliment each other while in the same backcourt.
Lucas (6-foot-2) is a driver, a disher, a solid all-around prospect who makes those around him better.
Moore (5-foot-9) simply is a shot-maker. He's a threat to shoot it and score anywhere on the floor.
When working under the assumption of one remaining scholarship, though, this likely isn't a viable strategy. The front court depth issues should be viewed as the priority over complimentary pieces at this point in time. So, for me, this recruitment/non-recruitment essentially boils down to the following question:
Does John Groce feel that Charlie Moore would be an upgrade over Te'Jon Lucas?
If not, great! Illinois already has a Big Ten-caliber point guard. But if so, then he owes it to both himself and the program to at least explore that opportunity.
There's no easy answer for John Groce right now because recruiting absolutely sucks. As things stand now, it appears that there will be no contact made between the two parties.
Mac Irvin Fire head coach Mike Irvin tells me the #Illini have not expressed interest in Charlie Moore to this point.— Derek Piper (@DPiperScout) April 9, 2016
Should Illinois continue to completely ignore Moore, it'll result in more negative PR for a program that's been getting (rightfully) hammered by the media; matters would only become worse if Moore ends up playing for Northwestern, Wisconsin, or another Big Ten school. In the event Illinois does reach out to Moore, it could easily be viewed as an attempt to recruit over a player that's already given his pledge to the team
TL;DR - Unless John Groce thinks Moore would be an upgrade in the backcourt, the current roster situation makes it hard to justify any interest. That could change if two or more scholarships become available in the near future.