Earlier Monday, 2025 Compass Prep combo guard Jeremiah Fears verbally committed to Illinois. Fears, a Joliet native, chose the Illini over offers from Michigan, Kansas, Providence, and Tennessee among others, is a four-star guard and the younger brother of Michigan State freshman Jeremy Fears.
The younger Fears is a different style of player than his Spartan brother. Jeremiah is a dangerous three-level scorer who looks to get buckets more than distribute.
So what does this all mean for the Illini? Well, quite a bit.
Geoff Alexander is making a difference on the recruiting trail.
Coach Alexander has been known for his Xs and Os viewpoint, European connections, and big man tutoring since his arrival in Champaign. He has also been floated as a potential head coaching candidate at the mid-major level.
As the lead in this recruitment, Alexander did a tremendous job. After Jeremy Fears and the Illini parted ways prior to the elder brother’s televised Michigan State commitment, Alexander had more to do than just pursue a player. He had to re-recruit a family.
And as the younger Fears continued his rise and evolution as a scorer, the Illini stayed at the heart of the pursuit. This recruitment was never going to be easy, but the reward was worth the risk. Jeremiah Fears was clearly Illinois’ top target in the class of 2025, and when Fears didn’t reclassify, that solidified the coaching staff’s desire to close.
Well Coach Alexander, you deserve a cup of the finest coffee in the world. Because coffee is for closers.
Illinois still cares about in-state recruiting.
The 2024 class for the Illini is headlined by potential McDonald’s All-American Morez Johnson, a Harvey Thornton prospect who transferred from Chicago St. Rita. The class also features Yorkville big man Jason Jakstys, who may have been seen as a reach for a high-major program, but Illinois believes in developing big men.
Coleman Hawkins is a product of that coaching.
But the Illini have gone away from in-state prep recruiting recently. Seeing top prospects like Cooper Koch, Nojus Indrusaitis, Jaden Schutt, and EJ Liddell among others leave the state has been a blow to a program that once prided itself on shutting down its borders.
Would you believe the last in-state prep prospect Ilinois signed before Morez and Jakstys was Adam Miller?
Getting a commitment from the Joliet native Fears furthers that push to re-establish the state of Illinois as a fertile primary recruiting ground. We will see in time if that pitch resonates with Aleks Alston, Gabe Sularski, and Phoenix Gill.
Illinois has a clear recruiting philosophy.
In the portal era, Brad Underwood has made sure to keep scholarships plentiful after signing day. Getting experienced players and potential stars in the portal has become the most significant segment of roster construction among Power Four schools. Getting old and staying old does require youthful supplementation.
That is what Jeremiah Fears and Morez Johnson can bring to the Illini in the coming years. Precocious young stars adding to crafty, been-there-and-done-that veterans is the model for sustained success that Illinois is seeking in the post hero ball era.
Jase Butler, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn and Fears give the Illini multiple long-term backcourt pieces with scoring ability. The Illini are not going to get caught again having to replace an entire backcourt in one fell swoop.
Underwood has been on a recruiting roll, with or without Chin and Orlando.
I admit that when Orlando Antigua went back to Lexington, I thought that recruiting would die off. Hell, even Chin Coleman and his connection to the Mac Irvin Fire seemed necessary.
But the current staff is continuing the trend of getting top end recruits every cycle.
(No, the retention hasn’t been great, but the acquisition has been outstanding.)
The Caribbean Connection dried up when Antigua left. But that gave way to a DMV connection through Chester Frazier.
The Mac Irvin Fire inroads were closed. But MeanStreets has emerged as the Illini’s primary local feeder system.
The non-existent Canadian Pipeline is unnecessary when the entire European continent is at the staff’s disposal.
Brad Underwood has built a system that is bigger than any one elite assistant coach. And that means Illinois can rebuild and retool on the fly like a top Power Four program should.
Jeremiah Fears won’t arrive on campus until June 2025. But his looming presence is a factor that a program can build its offensive philosophy around. And that makes recruiting a more linear task. And that means the coaching staff can focus even more on teaching and refining the roster to compete on the biggest stages against the best teams.