When it comes to Illinois basketball fans, who have taken their share of bruises in following recent high-stakes recruiting battles, I hope they know this coming weekend is a time to celebrate.
Simeon’s D.J. Williams and Plainfield East’s Aaron Jordan will be coming to Champaign.
The tandem have made many trips to the University of Illinois, but this weekend the two will be on their “official” visits. And, yes, the 48-hour trip for these two and their families should be met with as much gusto and fervor as any other visitor that has been wined, dined and coveted by coach John Groce and his staff in previous weeks.
The attention bestowed on past “visitors” should be revved up again for this pair of in-state seniors. While at the homecoming football game, fans should be sure to take a quick break from booing Beckman to cheer and salute Williams and Jordan as they make their way around Memorial Stadium and campus. There is nothing wrong with making the committed still feel wanted.
The official visit from the “committed” generally doesn’t draw the extreme interest, craziness or nervousness the visit from the “uncommitted” creates. There always seems to be something inherently special –– maybe somewhat sick? –– about the chase in college recruiting. But this is no time to take these two committed players for granted.
And here’s why: These two said “yes!”
Plus, with Williams, Jordan and Jalen Coleman-Lands, the scoring guard out of Indiana ranked among the top 35 players in the country, all locked up, Groce is assured the program will be better than it was the day before these three arrive on campus.
While Coleman-Lands is the highest ranked player of the three, and together the trio will add so much to the future fortunes of Illinois basketball, this weekend belongs to the home grown players.
Williams is the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 3 ranked prospect in the state. Nationally, he’s the 50th ranked player in the country, according to ESPN, while ranked No. 55 by Scout and No. 62 by Rivals.
More importantly, Williams is the type of “prospect” you covet because of his combination of versatility, talent and remaining upside. At 6-7 he’s a multi-dimensional threat on the floor who fills a stat sheet –– he rebounds, handles the ball, has terrific vision and scores in a variety of ways –– while continuing to grow and mature as a player. You can’t help but get excited about what Williams can become down the road.
Jordan, meanwhile, is the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 5 ranked player in Illinois in the Class of 2015. He checks in at No. 85 nationally, according to Rivals.com. This is a player who chose Illinois over plenty of Big Ten rivals, including Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern.
He’s grown to 6-5 and still possesses high-level shot making ability, efficiency and range that this program has lacked in recent years. Throw in some off-the-charts character and work ethic and Jordan is bound to be an important piece going forward.
But there are other reasons to appreciate both Williams and Jordan as committed prospects –– other than the basketball skill and ability they bring.
Williams keeps a pretty cool tradition alive: the Simeon to Illinois pipeline. No high school has been better to the major state university’s basketball program than Simeon over the past three-plus decades. The list, which includes current Illini Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, is very impressive as Williams follows a long line of former Simeon stars who have played at Illinois.
Plus, Williams was a class act in a recruiting process that so many kids make a mockery of in the months leading up to their decision. He ended his recruitment way earlier than others, foregoing all the drama and attention that comes with stretching it out. Williams even committed the old fashioned way, refreshingly announcing his decision with a –– surprise! ––photo and story in the morning newspaper.
“There haven’t been many players who have stayed home, and it feels good to be one that did,” says Williams. “I think coach Groce is doing a great job in turning the program around, and I want to be a part of that.”
Jordan, meanwhile, became an instant Illinois ambassador from the moment he committed. There aren’t many prep players who are as already devoted and so proud to represent their future school than Jordan.
“Everything is right about Illinois, and I don’t think everyone understands what it means to stay home and play for your state school,” says Jordan, who has lived in Illinois since he was 2 years old. “It’s really all I’ve ever known, living in Illinois, and I understand what it means to represent where you grew up.
“We –– and by we I mean D.J. [Williams] and Jalen [Coleman-Lands] –– really don’t care about who has said no. We know the direction the program is headed in and know that we can come in and help the returning players who will be back next year.”
There is something to be said about an in-state kid who is that attached to the home state school.
And in this day and era, staying home can’t be taken for granted by anyone.
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