Illinois basketball fans weren’t going to get off that easy.
After the recent hiring of former Oklahoma State and Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood, Illini fans found themselves in a good place. The team ridded themselves of the under-producing John Groce and had the ninth best recruiting class in the country. It seemed as though, finally, the sun was shining bright over the State Farm Center in Champaign.
However, the clear skies didn’t stay on the forecast for long and Illinois basketball has once again found themselves in a gloomy place. Two of the recruits that helped make up that powerful Illinois recruiting class have asked for a release from their National Letter of Intent.
The biggest blow came when five-star recruit Jeremiah Tilmon announced he would decommit from the university via instagram on April 5th.
Tilmon has been ranked as a top recruit, evident by his No. 41 ranking in ESPN’s top 100 in 2017. When originally committing to Illinois, Tilmon had some big time schools looking his way. Powerhouses like Michigan State, Kansas and even reigning NCAA champions UNC wanted Tilmon playing for them come next season. That’s why when announcing he’d be “staying home” over twitter in July of 2016, Illinois basketball had pulled off a major recruiting victory.
Tilmon, in some cases, was being called the best Illinois recruit since Dee Brown and, for anyone that knows about Illinois basketball, it’s safe to say Dee Brown worked out pretty well for the Fighting Illini.
Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman hoped that his convincing ways, which helped pull in head football coach Lovie Smith and now head basketball coach Brad Underwood, would work once again on a top ranked recruiting class. Underwood also understood the importance of keeping these recruits on board and because of this kept assistant coach Jamall Walker on staff, a man that played a key role in Illinois recruitment. Unfortunately, Tilmon’s commitment relied too heavily on former head coach John Groce being at the helm of the team, and there was no convincing him otherwise.
After Tilmon announced he would be asking for his release, it didn’t take long for recruit Javon Pickett, a three-star guard, to follow in his footsteps. While Pickett’s decision may not come as the worst case scenario for Illinois, it now leaves the team with only two recruits coming in 2017.
Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams are two four-star recruits that remain strongly committed to the university, and this should give many Illini fans hope.
Frazier has been extremely vocal over social media about his excitement to wear orange and blue in the upcoming season. Both players have had outstanding high school careers and have been looked at by some of the best programs in the nation. Their talent isn’t anything to be questioned and even with the loss of both Tilmon and Pickett, Illinois still has a very hopeful future as long as these players are apart of their roster.
honestly I'm to proud to be an #illini????????
— Trent (@_Trentfrazier1) April 8, 2017
This may finally be the last big blow for Illinois. It’s been a tough previous decade for the program but if they can finally get over this last hump, better days may easily be in the Fighting Illini’s future.
It’s important to keep in mind that Illinois still has a lot of strong and young talent that can lead the program in the right direction. Guys like Kipper Nichols and Te’Jon Lucas put up strong performances in 2016 and are only heading into their sophomore seasons.
In addition, players like Aaron Jordan and DJ Williams may finally get the chance they’ve been waiting for in an Underwood style team. Both have a lot of talent and with the team’s lack of size the Illini will need to mix things up on both ends of the court. Even though they’ve already been on the team for two years, Jordan and Williams could be a breath of fresh air.
No matter what happens next for the Illini, when the 2017 season tips off it will be the beginning of a new era. Who knows, maybe the sun will come out once again.