Newly-named Illinois assistant coach Paris Parham can remember a time when most Chicago high school basketball players considered the Illini as a possible destination.
That’s changed over the years, but Parham said Friday he’s confident Illinois can return to having that standing in Chicago.
“Growing up in Chicago, playing ball, your whole dream was to play at the highest level,” said Parham, who was officially named to Illinois coach John Groce’s staff on Thursday. “During our time, Illinois has always been in the Big Ten and has always consistently been a place that guys dreamed about playing at.
“I think it can definitely be like that again. It hasn’t lost anything. The Big Ten was the best conference in the country last season. It’s in the top 3 in the country year in and year out. It’s a place with unbelievable fan support. Education-wise, the school is unbelievable across the board. People want to play for a winner. Whenever Illinois was winning, bright lights and shining stars kind of idea, kids wanted to come. We have to get back to that level.”
Parham provides Illinois a true ticket into Chicago, something it hasn’t had perhaps since Jimmy Collins was an Illini assistant. Parham has developed relationships with Chicago coaches, players and families throughout his time growing up in Chicago, playing in the Public League, coaching in the Public League and recruiting the Public League for Illinois State.
A number of Chicago’s most prominent club and high school coaches have already vocalized their support for Parham at Illinois. He’s especially close with Curie coach Mike Oliver, Simeon coach Robert Smith and Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. All three coaches consistently have some of the city’s top talent.
“The biggest thing is the relationships I’ve had with a lot of the high school and AAU coaches go 20-plus years,” Parham said. “For me, it won’t be hard to come in and try to form relationships with coaches and parents. Most of the parents I’ve known and went to school with them, they watched me play in high school. Most of the coaches I coached against or played against in high school.
“That familiarity with me, knowing who I am as a person, I think that can help in a way. Now when you go to talk to a kid and talk to a parent, you have coaches who have spent the most time with them and they can vouch for you and the person you are.”
Since Parham was hired, Curie junior center Cliff Alexander, who is ranked No. 11 in the Class of 2014 by ESPN, and Simeon sophomore D.J. Williams, who is considered Simeon’s next star, have visited Illinois.
The state’s Class of 2013 has a number of high-major targets, including top-ranked Simeon forward Jabari Parker and No. 55-ranked Simeon guard Kendrick Nunn. Illinois is thought to be recruiting a handful of others players in the state in 2013.
Parham can’t promise Illinois will land all of the area’s top players, but he promises the staff is going to try.
“I’m just starting this week,” Parham said. “The rest of the guys came in two months ago, rolled up their sleeves and have been working ever since. We can take a swing at it. If it happens, it does. We can’t get caught up in who is going to come and who isn’t going to come.
“I think we need to bring out the power of the I. We’re the state school, and we need to sell it as that. We need to do a job of talking about the history. There have been some unbelievable guys, professional guys here. When you have great athletics and great academics, it’s something you should be able to sell and gets kids to.”