Illinois coach John Groce said Friday he doesn’t plan on minimizing his recruiting expectations or have a patient approach when it comes to rebuilding the Illini program just because he’s in his first season.
Groce, who was hired in March to replace former Illinois coach Bruce Weber, secured two transfers (Sam McLaurin from Coastal Carolina and Rayvonte Rice from Drake) in his 2012 class and already has two commitments (center Maverick Morgan and shooting guard Malcolm Hill) in his 2013 class.
Groce will hit the recruiting trail again next week when the July recruiting period begins on July 11. He will be looking to fill three more spots in the 2013 class and as he described “put the hammer down” on the 2014 and 2015 classes.
“From the standpoint, we came here to put us in the best position to get this thing done as quickly as possible,” Groce said by phone on Friday. “I’m not really a patient guy. I didn’t come into this position thinking this is going to take us this long. That’s not my mindset.
“For us, it’s matter of getting the right guys to fit the way we play, to fit what we’re about on and off the court. We’re looking for good fits and good players. I anticipate to move forward with the last three spots we have remaining (in 2013.) I’m not letting us settle saying, ‘Hey, we got the job in April.’ Our staff has done a great job. We’re working at it and grinding it.”
Groce said one of the priorities for the recruiting class will be a point guard. Tracy Abrams, who will be a sophomore, is the lone point guard on the current roster. Weber had secured commitments from Class of 2012 point guard Michael Orris and Class of 2013 point guard Jalen James, but both players decided to go difference directions.
“Tracy is going to be a big part to what we do,” Groce said. “He is. When you look at the roster, he’s the only point guard on our roster. We need one. We’re going to do our very best to find a point guard who fits our style of play, how we attack and how aggressive we are.
“The thing I’ve learned is you can try to put guys in situations and try to teach them decision-making. The guys I’ve had that were the best at decision-making, at different speeds and gears, ability to make guys better and connect guys, that’s almost a trait you have before you arrive. You think about D.J. Cooper (who he coached at Ohio), Mike Conley (who he coached at Ohio State), you put them in any situation and you can’t speed them up. They were going to play at their own pace no matter what you did.”
Groce said the Illini started behind the ball in recruiting the elite players in the 2013 class because they’ve had less time to develop relationships, but he did believe the Illini were progressing in their pursuits.
“I think it’s not easy, but we’ve made up a lot of ground,” Groce said. “I think we’re grinding it out. We’ve developed some relationships and continue to work on some and make some we’ve had prior even better. We’re worked at really hard, put us in the position we’re in the game, but it’s not easy. When you have the change you just had, it’s not easy. As my dad said, everything worthwhile in life isn’t easy. It’s a challenge.”
Groce was hopeful the addition of assistant coach Paris Parham, a Chicago native and former Illinois State assistant coach, would help the Illini’s recruiting in Chicago. Parham replaced Isaac Chew, who left Illinois for Marquette. Illinois assistant Jamall Walker also has Chicago recruiting ties.
“Jamall has done an excellent job,” Groce said. “We’ve been in Chicago as a staff at Ohio. We’ve been there before we hired Paris. He adds another level. He’s from there. He has connections and relationships there. People will embrace him because he’s one of theirs. We’re going to continue to build relationships, and Paris is going to help us in that.”
Former Illinois coach Ron Zook seemed to be a magnet for top-end recruits early in his seven-year tenure with the Illini.
He not only kept the state’s top talent at home, but he was also able to reach out and secure some of the top players from around the nation.
His 2006 recruiting class featured three ESPNU 150 players -- tight end Jeff Cumberland, who was from Ohio, and quarterback Juice Williams and wide receiver Chris James, who were both from Chicago. A year later, he had three more ESPNU 150 players in linebacker Martez Wilson from Chicago, wide receiver Arrelious Benn from Washington D.C. and D’Angelo McCray from Florida. In both years, he was also retaining most of the state’s premier recruits.
In 2008, nine of the state’s top 10-rated players, including both ESPNU 150 recruits, committed elsewhere. In 2009, Illinois missed on eight of the top 10 players, including three of the four ESPNU 150 recruits. In 2010 and 2011, Illinois missed on all four ESPNU 150 recruits and had just one commitment in each class’s top 10.
In 2012, Illinois doesn’t have a commitment from any of the state’s top-10 players and just one in the top 20. There are nine players in the top 20 who are committed to other Big Ten programs.
“He wasn’t getting the traditional Midwest big guys,” ESPN Midwest recruiting analyst Jared Shanker said of Zook. “He relied too heavily to his ties to the Southeast area to when he was recruiting Florida. He didn’t do enough to sell Illinois’ in-state guys.”
Restoring that in-state pipeline will have to be a priority for whomever is hired to be Zook’s replacement. The state may not produce the amount of talent that some places do, but Illinois has its share of quality players, and right now they’re winning at programs elsewhere in the country.
“He has to take the state back,” Shanker said.
Chicago area’s high school football coaches agreed. They’d like to see more of their players end up at Illinois rather than out of state.
“I’m not convinced Illinois is winning the state of Illinois in terms of getting their top recruits there,” said Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow, whose team won the Class 8A state championship this season. “All these programs, Georgia’s players are from Georgia, Florida kids are from Florida, Illinois kids are from all over the place. You got to get those boys to stay home.”
Bolingbrook’s top player, linebacker Antonio Morrison, was recruited by Illinois, but he opted for Florida for its warm weather and football tradition.
“The tradition was important no doubt about it,” Ivlow said. “You got to make bowl games. If you can make bowl games every year, people take notice. Illinois hasn’t been able to do that. They’re inconsistent. They’re up, they’re down, they’re down, they’re up.”
Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet also felt Illinois’ lack of success on the field has led to its lack of success off it. Since 2009, three of the state’s biggest recruits came from Hetlet’s program, and they also decided to commit out of state. Class of 2009 recruit Chris Watt ended up at Notre Dame, 2011 recruit Jordan Walsh chose Iowa, and 2012 recruit Tommy Schutt is committed to Penn State.
“I think winning begets winning,” Hetlet said. “They have to show they’re going to turn the program around and stay consistent to keep those guys in state.”
Hetlet and Simeon coach Dante Culbreath also thought the Illini’s coaching shake-ups in recent years affected recruiting. Hetlet felt Illinois missed the recruiting presence of Dan Disch, who is now at Southern Miss, and Culbreath believed the same about Reggie Mitchell, who is now at Kansas, and Mike Locksley, who was fired at New Mexico this season.
Zook was able to recruit former Simeon stars Wilson and Jack Ramsey to Illinois, but failed recently with the Wolverines’ marquee players. Class of 2011 offensive lineman Chris Bryant committed to Michigan last year. Class of 2012 quarterback Robert Gregory is committed to Arkansas, and ESPNU 150 offensive lineman Jordan Diamond is looking at other programs.
“I thought Coach Zook started off good, but in his defense he lost his recruiters in Locksley and Reggie Mitchell,” Culbreath said. “He brought in guys who didn’t know the city and the Public League or the surrounding cities. Whoever comes in, he has to get guys who know how to keep the city boys and Illinois boys in Illinois.
“That’s the reality of it. People want to say this and that. If you can’t get the kids out of your own home, most likely you won’t be as successful as you can be.”
Class of 2012 ESPNU Watch List 150 offensive lineman Mark Harrell has committed to Notre Dame, according to ESPN Recruiting.
Harrell, who is 6-5 and 250 pounds, chose the Irish over Auburn, Clemson, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Harrell attends Charlotte Catholic in North Carolina. Notre Dame now has seven Class of 2012 commitments.
Mountain View junior college sophomore point guard Gary Talton has committed to UIC.
Talton, a 6-foot guard, chose the Flames over interest from Boston College and Northern Illinois.
“I liked where the coaches are trying to go,” Talton said of UIC. “I just went down there and fell in love with it. I believe in coach [Howard] Moore and think we’re going to do great things.”
Talton averaged 14.5 points and 6.6 assists and was named a first-team NJCAA Division III All-American this past season. He also led Mountain View, which is in Texas, to the Division IIII national title.
“I can shoot it, and I can also see the floor,” Talton said. “I’ll try to come in and be the best player I can. I think me winning here translates really well to me coming there.”
Talton is expected to compete for the starting point guard position next season.
Talton is UIC’s seventh Class of 2011 recruit.
Plano junior defensive back Joseph Jones has committed to Northwestern.
Jones, who is 6-1 and 200 pounds, sat out the majority of his junior season after breaking his foot in Plano’s third game. He had five tackles, one interception and one pass break-up on the season. He also rushed for 165 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries and caught two passes for 23 yards.
“This is our first Division I athlete since 1971,” Plano athletic director Jim Schmidt said. “We always knew he had the ability. He’s just a gifted athlete. He’s a kid that runs a 4.4 [second] 40 [yard dash], and he’s 6-1 and he can jump.”
Jones is Northwestern’s fourth Class of 2012 recruit and joins Joliet Catholic running back Malin Jones as the Wildcats’ second in-state recruit.
DePaul assistant coach Billy Garrett can relax now.
His son Billy Garrett Jr., a Morgan Park sophomore guard, relieved his father’s worries and committed to DePaul on Tuesday night.
Garrett Jr. chose the Blue Demons over interest from Florida State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Stanford and UNLV.
Garrett Jr., a 6-foot-4 guard, is considered one of the state’s top Class of 2013 prospects. He averaged 15 points a game for Morgan Park as a sophomore.
When Garrett Jr. arrives to DePaul, it’ll be the first time his dad actually coaches him. Garrett has been a college assistant since 2000. He has been with DePaul for the past two seasons.
“It means a lot to be with my dad,” said Garrett Jr., who has a 4.7 GPA on a 4.0 scale. “Not a lot of people get that chance. It’s great to play for him and coach [Oliver] Purnell.
“But beside my dad, the other main reason to play for DePaul was being in the Big East. I want to play in the best conference in the country.”
Garrett Jr.’s mission now is to recruit his friends to DePaul. He’ll be looking to sway Simeon’s Jabari Parker, Whitney Young’s Tommy Hamilton Jr., Morgan Park’s Markee Williams, Simeon’s Steve Taylor, Leo’s Russell Woods and others to Lincoln Park.
“All of the scholarships we have, I’ll be trying to fill them,” Garrett Jr. said. “I think we can potentially win the whole thing with players out of the city. I’m definitely trying to get them to come with me.”
Garrett Jr. is DePaul’s first Class of 2013 recruit.
Triton junior college sophomore guard Oscar Macias committed to Chicago State on Thursday.
The 6-foot-4 Macias chose Chicago State over interest from Tennessee-Martin, Arkansas-Little Rock and TCU. Macias previously starred at Morton High School in Cicero, Ill.
“You can tell the program is coming up,” Macias said. “That was the reason I jumped on it right away. [Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy] told me we’re going to do something special, and I believe him.
“He said he needed a big point guard who can come in and score and distribute. I feel like I can do that.”
Macias is averaging 15 points for Triton, which is 25-5 this season.
Benet senior offensive lineman Pat Flavin committed to Illinois on Wednesday, his high school coach Pat New confirmed.
Flavin, who is 6-7 and 250 pounds, also considered Boston College, Purdue and UCLA.
“I think he’s going to be a great college player,” New said. “He’s going to need to spend a couple years in the weight room because and add 35 pounds, but once he does, he has great feet and a great work ethic. I know he’s going to be a top-notch college player.”
The Illini now have 22 Class of 2011 commitments, including 10 from Illinois.
CHICAGO -- Anthony Davis was almost an unknown in the basketball world as recently as seven months ago.
On Wednesday as 200-plus Perspectives’ students chanted Davis’ name while he signed his letter of intent to play at Kentucky, Davis reflected back on what had been an unforgettable seven months and what might have been if he hadn’t been discovered.
Most likely, Wednesday, the first day of college basketball's early signing period, would have been a monument day at Cleveland State if the events didn’t play out as they did.
“I was going to go there,” said Davis, who is ranked No. 2 in the Class of 2011 by ESPN. “Playing AAU really helped me a lot. If I hadn’t played AAU, I wouldn’t be here today. There’s a lot of people who doubted me, a lot of critics. I used that as motivation. [They said,] ‘I wasn’t going to go high D-I. I was going to go mid-major.’”
With what began with a decision to give club basketball a try as a way to gain more exposure, Davis and his versatile play became the talk of the hoops community nearly overnight. He skyrocketed up the national rankings, and nearly every coach in the country was falling over each other offering him a scholarship.
It was a series of events that rarely occurs in basketball recruiting in this day and age.
“I think it’s a great story,” ESPN Recruiting’s Reggie Rankin said. “It’s one of those you’re glad to see a happy ending to. Here’s a kid who is going from being a relatively unknown player in the spring time to going to play for the winningest program in the country. That’s pretty extreme.”
Davis’ mother Erainer Davis said the same.
“I never would have thought that things like this would have happened,” she said. “I knew he was good. I thought he was pretty good at basketball. We told him your turn will come around. Then all of sudden he went to play AAU with MeanStreets, and it blew up out of nowhere.”
Davis chose Kentucky over DePaul, Ohio State and Syracuse in August because he felt the Wildcats and their coach John Calipari gave him the best opportunity to win a national championship and play in the NBA.
Kentucky’s Class of 2011 is ranked No. 1 by ESPN -- the Wildcats signed four top 25 players on Wednesday. Along with Davis, the Wildcats brought in Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer.
“We all think we’re going to win a national championship, and I think that’s going to happen as long as the four of us are there,” Davis said. “That’s one of our biggest goals, and something we need to accomplish. If our team this year wins, that’ll be banner No. 8, and we’re going to try and get No. 9. If they don’t win, I guess we’re going to get banner No. 8.
“Whatever Kentucky needs me to do and coach Calipari needs me to do to win a national championship, I’m going to do.”
Davis’ recruitment to Kentucky did involve some controversy. In August, the Chicago Sun-Times reported someone close to the Kentucky program had agreed to pay $200,000 to secure Davis’ commitment, and that Davis' father, Anthony Davis Sr., had asked three other schools for $125,000-$150,000.
Kentucky and the Davis family have denied the allegations all along and continued to do so on Wednesday.
“I have no idea [why they wrote that,]” Davis Sr. said. “Maybe there were schools jealous of coach Calipari and Anthony picking Kentucky. That’s my assumption. I’m not sure. I truly believe one of the other schools he didn’t pick was upset.
“It wasn’t difficult. We knew what they wrote wasn’t true. Anthony was a little upset because he’s been getting all the good, and he finally got a little bit of the bad. I had a talk with him and explained to him, ‘That you know, you’re going to get a lot of good, you’re going to get a lot of bad, but it’s how you take it and run with it.’ So when the story came out, he still chose Kentucky. We’re happy as a family.”
Davis Sr. said they do still plan on suing the Sun-Times, and his attorney was still working through the situation.
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Clay Burton, a senior-to-be defensive end out of Venice, Fla., verbally committed Friday to play for the Fighting Irish, according to numerous reports. His commitment pushes the program's class of 2011 to double-digit commitments.
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Northwestern announced the addition of six walk-ons for its upcoming football season on Thursday.
Locally, the Wildcats added Cary-Grove offensive lineman Hayden Baker, a ESPNChicago.com all-area selection, and Providence running back Tim Hanrahan. Baker, who is 6-2 and 260 pounds, helped Cary-Grove total 5,289 yards last season and was key to the Trojans’ winning the Class 6A state title. Hanrahan, who is 6-0 and 190 pounds, rushed for 1,936 yards on 287 carries as a junior and 1,851 yards on 351 carries as a senior.
Northwestern also added defensive back Joe Cannon (Oconomowoc, Wis./Marquette University High School), wide receiver Torin Dupper (Decatur, Ala./Decatur), defensive back Mike Eshun (Madison, Wis./Edgewood) and superback Christian Flores (Brambleton, Va./Briar Woods).
“Every year, our non-scholarship players make a huge impact on our program and we reward as many as possible,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a statement. “We had a number of former walk-ons play prominent roles for our football team in 2009, led by Zeke Markshausen. Zeke is just one example of the many talented walk-ons who join our program and work their tails off to become significant contributors on the field. I'm pleased to welcome these six student-athletes to our football family.”
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brito, a 6-foot-1 guard, averaged 16.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists for Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., this past season. Lawrence Academy went 29-0 and won the Class C New England Championship.
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In fact, the Fighting Irish struck oil on Tuesday. With four high school juniors having already pledged their verbal allegiance, last Saturday's Blue-Gold spring game in South Bend netted a talented quartet headlined by five-star tight end Ben Koyack.
The Oil City High School star, leaning heavily toward choosing Ohio State just days earlier, felt the magic while on the sideline at Notre Dame Stadium and verbally committed on Tuesday.
"Yeah, checking out practice and then seeing the [spring] game really did push me over the edge," the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder said. "And everyone talks about it being Tight End U. Brian Kelly said that our signing helps some other top guys sign. I think it will be a good team no matter what caliber of guys we get."
That shows how much faith Koyack, who caught 41 passes for 748 yards and seven touchdowns this past season, has in Kelly's ability to coach up moderate talent and run roughshod with above-average aptitude. Koyack appears to be the latter -- a big hybrid who will be tough for cornerbacks to handle with enough speed to give to give linebackers fits.
"Just the offense he runs, and he seems like a guy I can trust," said Koyack, who has 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash. "I definitely believe what he says. [The previous staff] started off saying they had a lot of interest, and then I kind of lost touch with them. When Brian Kelly took over, I mean, I watched his offense at Cincinnati so I knew I had to check it out.
"A week before [I signed] I narrowed it down to Notre Dame and Ohio State. When I went [to South Bend], I just kind of fell in love."
As did Tony Springmann (OL, Fort Wayne, Ind.), Conor Hanratty (OL, New Canaan, Conn.) and Jarrett Grace (LB, Cincinnati, Ohio) over the weekend. Defensive end Brad Carrico (Dublin, Ohio), kicker Kyle Brindza (Canton, Mich.), athlete Matthias Farley (Charlotte, N.C.) and Jordan Prestwood, a solid offensive lineman from Plant City, Fla., all verbally committed prior to the spring game.
Prestwood likes what he sees with a strong push to bolster the O-line -- a unit that got pushed around in 2007 and 2008, but saw significant improvement last fall.
"The changes they're making really excites me," the 6-6, 265-pounder said. "(OL coach Ed) Warinner, his coaching style and what he brings to Notre Dame really impressed me."
Nothing gets Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald going like a recruit committing.
On Wednesday, Richards junior Jarrell Williams got a taste of that when he phoned Fitzgerald to let him he know he was becoming Northwestern's first 2011 commitment.
"He was fired up," said Williams on Thursday. "That's his favorite thing to say: he's fired up. He told everyone in the office, and everyone was happy that I was jumping onboard as a Wildcat."