All we ask of Lovie Smith is to delay when Illini fans officially turn the fanatical page to basketball season. Bring enough intrigue to football that opening night at State Farm Center (Assembly Hall) sneaks up on us. We’re not there yet, and a part of me is personally worried that subconsciously I’ll create the bandwidth to freak out about two things at once -- like basketball recruiting, for example. Even while football crootin’ gained some momentum in Texas, frequent visits to Illini basketball forums littered my internet history.
And if you aren’t up on things, hoops is heating up folks! Brad Underwood admitted when he first arrived in Champaign that the first full class is the most challenging because you’re both making up for lost time in establishing relationships while examining the current roster and figuring out exactly what’s needed to fit the system and class balance. Well, if this is the most challenging it’s going to get, Underwood and co. might be in for some nice recruiting successes. As I see it, in the next few weeks it’s probable that a couple scholarships are spoken for, and the reservations are made by kids that instantly factor into the lineup and have the potential to win big in Champaign.
So who is Illinois chasing? When are they supposed to decide? How do they fit into the future roster? And for those of us who are too lazy to watch film and imagine a hooper’s development, what other college player will they most resemble?
Colin Castleton: 6-11 Center
How long must we wait? Not long at all. Last night it was revealed that Colin Castleton will make his decision sometime next week. This is made more interesting because his proclamation of intent was followed a visit from Illini assistant Orlando Antigua, with whom he’s kept the longest standing relationship from all his current suiters.
How does he fit? After He Who Shall Not Be Named flipped his signature from Illinois to Missouri, Illinois was left without bigs on the current roster. Underwood and team acted quickly to nab Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel in 2017, but he still needs to round out his frontcourt. Castleton is a big with enormous potential in Underwood’s system, mainly because he’s long enough to run the court and attack the rim while protecting it on the defensive side.His advanced skillset and shooting ability allows him to screen and pop from distance, opening the lane and providing another 3-point threat in transition.
Comp? Meyers Leonard minus the bounce. Castleton has many of the skills that earned Meyers Leonard a pretty 2nd NBA contract, but doesn’t yet (and probably won’t) possess the explosive leaping ability that earned Leonard frequent Sportscenter Top-10 plays.
Landers Nolley: 6-7 Wing
How long must we wait? Nolley is heading to Blacksburg, Virginia to be completely ignored during the Clemson v. Virginia Tech football game. After that he’s going to sit down and make a decision, to be announced October 7 by @Jakeweingarten on Twitter.
How does he fit? Underwood wants to push the pace and score within 7 seconds. You could score even quicker if you were just getting open lanes for dunks and layups, but unfortunately, sometimes the defense is back and set and you need to run a secondary break. Enter the sharpshooting Landers Nolley camping on the wing or the corner. While the talented guards push the pace and force the action at the rim, a shooter can settle in without much friction and get ready to fire.
Comp? Corey Brewer from the back-to-back Florida Gator Championship teams. Brewer was a legit 6-8 defensive stopper who leaned on his length to disrupt passing lanes, and on the offensive end he was a knockdown shooter who spread the defense in both the halfcourt and the break.
George Conditt: 6-10 Center
How long must we wait? Conditt came out of nowhere to earn 30+ offers this summer, and although he’s been patient with the process, we should know his destination in the next three weeks.
How does he fit? Conditt is a condor. While putting on weight is a must, you can’t do anything to develop a 7-foot+ wingspan with the mobility of a wing. Whatever program lands Conditt, they’re going to get a kid that needs a lot of dedication to the weight room, but his ceiling is incredibly high. After a couple years with Adam Fletcher in strength and conditioning, Conditt could potentially be a player who impacts the game by blocking shots, while also grabbing rebounds off the glass starting the break with a dribble and outlet.
Comp? Should I stick to the National-Champion-Florida model? A poor man’s Joakim Noah, then. I know that’s lofty for a high schooler, but I was privileged enough to see Noah a couple times in high school and he was the same skinny long athlete. Of course he had a sick dedication to the game that is nearly impossible to match, but that’s why I prefaced it with “poor man’s”.
Ayo Dosunmu, 6-5 lead guard
How long must we wait? It feels like we’ve already been waiting forever. Every time I read an internet outlet stating that Illinois is the favorite for Dosunmu’s services, it becomes harder and harder to remain calm and patient. This is a program-altering recruit for Illinois. A legit NBA prospect at lead guard that’s also from Chicago’s Morgan Park? How long has Illinois been swinging and missing at those?
How does he fit? Ayo is completely unstoppable when he has momentum going towards the rim. He has elite body control in a 6-5 frame, and is able to dribble and contort his torso and arms into unbelievable positions to finish at the rim. Underwood also wants the ball pushed down court AT THE RIM, so put those couple things together and further analysis isn’t needed or appropriate.
Comp? It’s lofty alright, but John Wall.
Wildcard: Talen Horton-Tucker, 6-5 Wing
How long must we wait? Who knows. A couple weeks ago Michigan State and Ohio State were trending up and it appeared that Illinois was no longer seriously pursuing the talented guard from Simeon. Flash forward to now and it appears his timeline might be changing, maybe quickly -- stay tuned!
How does he fit? If you lined up all the Top 100 players in the country and picked teams based on looks, THT probably would be sitting around a while. But then, after a season’s worth of games, you’d wonder why the team he was on always won. Illinois has sorely lacked guys like this in the recent past, but could rectify that in the near future. The interesting twist is that Ayo and THT were reportedly close on the Mac Irvin Fire, but a departure for THT strained the relationship deeply and that spread to different political layers. Can that be repaired for Illinois to fit both?
Comp? Roosevelt Jones from Butler. Another big-bodied guard who did everything well and WON.