- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Illinois coach John Groce and his staff have narrowed their recruiting focus for the class of 2014. Here's a look at the players the Illini are recruiting:
Curie (Chicago) power forward Cliff Alexander: Alexander, the nation's No. 2-ranked senior by ESPN, is the priority for Illinois. He would be the biggest recruit in the program's history since the Illini landed Marcus Liberty and Deon Thomas in the late 1980s. Alexander would likely only stick around one season, but he could do wonders for Illinois on the floor in that one year and off the floor in recruiting, especially in Chicago, for many years to come. Groce was glued to Alexander's club games in July. Alexander, his parents and his coaches are said to be in communication with Groce and his staff often. Sources have indicated Alexander is high on the Illini, and those around Alexander are pleased with Illinois' constant contact.
Whitney Young (Chicago) center Jahlil Okafor: Okafor, the nation's No. 1 recruit, hasn't cut Illinois from his list, and Illinois hasn't stopped recruiting him, but his coming to the school likely won't happen. Okafor and Tyus Jones have been adamant about wanting to play with together, and Jones isn't interested in Illinois, and Illinois isn't recruiting Jones. The math is simple. Illinois' hope has to be for Okafor and Jones not to end up somewhere in the Big Ten. They're considering Michigan State and Ohio State.
White Station (Tennessee) power forward Leron Black: Illinois feels as good about its chances with Black as anyone it's recruiting in the senior class. Black, who is ranked No. 36 in the country, has other schools, including Florida, Indiana and Louisville, after him, but the Illini have been pursuing him for some time now and have built a relationship. If Illinois received a commitment from Alexander or Black, it wouldn't mean the Illini would lose out on the other player. Illinois believes Alexander, a big-bodied power forward, and Black, a more slender and high-motored power forward, could play perfectly together and have been trying to sell them on that.
Ballard (Kentucky) point guard Quentin Snider: Snider, who is ranked No. 28, recently de-committed from Louisville and re-opened his recruitment. Illinois has already been in touch and offered him a scholarship. Groce is still looking for his point guard of the future, and Snider could be that. A lot of schools, including several in the Big Ten, are reaching out to Snider, so it may be some time before he creates a list and figures out whether he'll consider Illinois.
Morgan Park (Chicago) power forward Josh Cunningham: Illinois has expressed some interest to Cunningham and his high school and club coach Nick Irvin. The Illini have invited Cunningham to come on campus for a visit. Cunningham has drawn some Big Ten interest from Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern and has also been recruited by DePaul, but he's still likely a long shot to get an offer from Illinois. If things fall through with Alexander and Black, Cunningham could be Plan C. Cunningham has said he's going to take his time with his recruiting, so that could play into Illinois' favor down the road. Either way, the Illini are covering their tracks in case they want to pursue Cunningham harder at some point.
Illinois has been in contact with the father of Marian Catholic (Illinois) senior point guard Tyler Ulis, but the Illini haven't picked up their recruiting of him.
The Illini put a lot of time in July following their 2015 targets, especially St. Rita (Chicago) guard Charles Matthews, Stevenson (Illinois) guard Jalen Brunson, Simeon (Chicago) forward D.J. Williams and La Lumiere (Indiana) guard Jalen Coleman.
Another Simeon player could be on the verge of getting a scholarship offer from Illinois. The Illini have been closely following class of 2016 guard Zack Norvell, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard.