Well, here we are, ready to head into the biggest basketball recruiting week for the Illini in recent memory. Illinois fans have been put through the ringer for the fall signing period but this week could erase it all. That being said it could also send the fan base further into a downward spiral of malaise. This next week could cement the thought we have all had of “here we go again” and “be ready for a repeat of Jalen Brunson.” All of this anxiety can be attributed to one eighteen year old with a heck of a lot of skill, a kid most Illini faithful have been keeping up on for two years or more now. The Ayo Dosumnu vist this past weekend will forever be a shining gold star, or a big ugly blemish on Brad Underwood’s lapel for years to come. Can Illinois finally break it’s streak of missing out on high profile Morgan Park talent? Another big time recruit waits in the wings as well as Simeon wing Talen Horton-Tucker has a visit this upcoming weekend as well. Ominous foreshadowing aside lets get right into the recruiting action taking place this week.
Landers Nolley: (Langston Hughes) 6-foot-7 Wing
“He’s pulling our leg, just give it some time and he’ll de-commit and come to Illinois.” I’ve heard this half-“tongue in cheek” half-serious comment too many times to count this week. That being said Nolley is long gone, it’s time to let it go Illini fans.
Nolley, once committed to Georgia, broke said commitment and opened his courting back up to the world last weekend. Well, yesterday he committed to Buzz Williams and the Hokies and let me tell you, this one is over. Williams did a fantastic job in this recruitment selling Virginia Tech to the sharpshooter out of Georgia.
If you want something to cling to though it sounds like Nolley’s camp contacted the Illini staff and word is they weren’t exactly ecstatic to jump back into this one. Keep in mind Landers was coming off of a good Georgia visit and had put quite a bit of pressure on himself to make a decision by his self-imposed deadline.
He made a mistake, it happens, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun at his expense.
Prediction: Committed to Virginia Tech (for now)
Talen Horton-Tucker: (Simeon) 6-foot-5 Wing
THT is a guy that I have been high on since Underwood and company first offered him. Watching his highlight film from Peach Jam showed how skilled this guy is. Talen sure doesn’t look like a highly-skilled, athletic wing but he is all of that and more. You wouldn’t expect him to beat you off the dribble to the basket or pull up from deep three point range and knock down a jumper. He does all of this with an apparent ease and relaxed demeanor on the floor.
THT has a game that reminds me a lot of Tracy McGrady, not to that level of skill, of course, but he has a game that will lull defenders to sleep. He knows how to use his big frame and athletic ability to get to the cup and finish hard at the rim. Illinois would be lucky to get him as he would add a valuable and much needed contribution to the wing for this team.
This battle won’t be an easy win for the Illini. Steve Prohm has done a phenomenal job with Tucker, a lot like he did a great job with George Conditt and Zion Griffin. For most of this recruitment you have heard Iowa State the whole way but Illinois is making a late push to get a key piece to this class.
This is a loosely based opinion of mine, but I believe the Illini staff slow played THT and has been waiting for the right time to strike. Underwood could do what John Beilein did with Colin Castleton and sweep in late to steal one here.
Enter this weekend. Chin Coleman has been working hard on mending the bridge between THT and Ayo’s family and if they can pull it off those two would make a heck of a tandem.
Prediction: Iowa State
Ayo Dosunmu: (Morgan Park) 6-foot-4 Combo Guard
It all comes down to this. Ayo has been the top priority for this staff since they were brought to Champaign in March.
Before I get into how great Ayo is, let me give you a reality check Illini nation: Ayo is not an unprecedented program changing player. He is not Derrick Rose. Going off of that though he is a fantastic player and could be an integral piece of the team that will turn this program around.
Ayo is a floor general with excellent dribble-drive tendencies. He won’t be the best athlete on this team (Mark Smith) but he can make his teammates around him better and that is huge for any squad. Speaking of Mark Smith, having two Illinois Mr. Basketballs would do wonders for a program marred by heartbreak under previous coaching regimes. Illinois hasn’t had a top-30 guard on campus down to two programs since Jalen Brunson.
That being said, have faith — this is not the Jalen Brunson recruitment. Illinois has been in the driver’s seat with their foot on the gas since day one. It is incredibly rare in recruiting to hear one program mentioned so frequently as the front runner only to come up short in the end. Although it IS recruiting so there aren’t really any rules here.
Danny Manning has really put in the time and effort it takes to land Ayo, and his No. 11 recruiting class is a huge selling point to the Morgan Park guard. Wake Forrest isn’t the same blue blood titan that Illinois has squared off with for top Chicago talent in the past.
Illinois has the family connections with Chin Coleman’s ties to the Mac Irvin Fire and we already have the talent to surround him with on campus. If Ayo commits to Illinois we could have one of the top backcourts in the country in 2018.
Ayo committing also covers up a lot of recruiting miss-steps so far in this class, if you get him everything is suddenly ok. I’m telling you now, have faith in this one guys. I know Illinois has gotten burned a lot in the past in recruitments like this.
This one just feels different. Ayo stated on twitter yesterday that he is going to announce his decision tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. This one looks really promising for Illinois; now we just have to wait.
Bonus: Tim Finke (Champaign Central) 6-foot-6 Shooting Guard
Whispers around Champaign are saying the Illinois may be back in it for Champaign Central guard Tim Finke. Finke was once sitting in the captain’s chair with his pick of the litter but a poor summer showing has yielded a significant drop in his stock.
This makes sense for Illinois to get back into this one after missing on several high priority recruits this fall. Don’t sell the local kid short.
He may not be what scout’s originally thought he was, but he’s no slouch either. Look for future developments on this recruitment going forward.