On Wednesday morning, Colin Castleton made official what most tuned-in Illini fans knew for a few days, he was going to Michigan. This one stings for Brad Underwood’s 2018 class, as Castleton was the big he identified early and went after with full gusto. It stings a tad worse because assumed favorite Florida had recently been eliminated and everything was pointing towards Champaign until John Beilein and Michigan came calling.
Illinois isn’t used to being big-timed in hoops by anyone lacking blue blood in their veins, but that’s exactly what happened in this recruitment. Illini fans spidey senses start perking up when they hear that a kid might be favoring Illinois for an extended period of time without a commitment. We’ve heard it too often, and it typically means the recruit is prolonging their search until a bigger fish comes along. Yeah, Illinois is an attractive landing spot regardless of not having recent success on its resume - but some recruits use that bird-in-hand to sit patiently and have a great fallback option. It’s sad for the orange and blue, but it’s true, and this is the most recent way we’ve seen it play out.
And can you really blame Castleton for thinking Michigan was the better landing spot? He’s a high school senior, and he’s seen Michigan play on the national stage for his entire post-puberty lifetime. On the contrary, everything he learned about Illinois had to come from the coaching staff. When Beilein came calling there wasn’t the same education necessary - instead he was able to see clips of how Mo Wagner has developed and understand how he’d fit. Underwood doesn’t have that luxury. He has to first introduce Illinois, swear up and down that it is a basketball school, and then show clips of Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State to demonstrate his point.
Underwood wanted Colin Castleton in a bad way because he was a legit 6-10 big with the ability to both protect the rim on defense and step out and routinely hit jumpers at distance. That piece doesn’t currently exist on the Illinois roster, and it’s a rare jigsaw to find nationally. There isn’t another similar option in the 2018 class for Illinois now that Castleton is off the board, so Illinois is going to most likely have to repurpose that search into the talented 2019 class. Local big man prospects such as Francis Okoro and E.J. Liddell are even more important moving forward, and Antigua’s ability to break through will be tested (after missing on Castleton) with Top-50 New York prospects Kofi Cockburn and Aidan Igiehon.
As far as the 2018 class in general, it’s closing time. There are still top prospects on the board capable of salvaging Illinois efforts. Most notably lead guard Ayo Dosunmu, and wings Landers Nolley and Talen Horton-Tucker. Dosunmu, who could make this class a veritable home run by himself, will be deciding in the early signing period and has an official visit set up to Champaign next weekend. Nolley will be recording his commitment video late this week and then taking an official visit (having fun on someone else’s dime) to Georgia on Friday, with the intention of committing Saturday. And THT? Well that’s anyone’s guess.
When Castleton picked Beilein’s outfit on Wednesday it hurt Illinois 2018 outlook, but there is still plenty to unfold in the near future.