Henricksen: Jeremiah Tilmon and Illinois still a match?

SHARE Henricksen: Jeremiah Tilmon and Illinois still a match?

East St. Louis’ Jeremiah Tilmon (35) takes the ball to the basket against Morton. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

The state’s top prospect, Jeremiah Tilmon, put a much-needed jolt into the Illinois basketball program just when it needed it. Tilmon, one of the top 25 prospects in the country, committed to coach John Groce in July after a three-plus year recruiting courtship by the Illini staff.

Then it appeared the prized big man from East St. Louis sent an equally –– and potentially devastating –– sized jolt by deciding not to sign with Illinois during the early signing period.

Without a signed letter of intent, many thought the doors had been re-opened in the Tilmon recruiting sweepstakes.

And by not signing with Illinois at this late stage, informing the staff just 48 hours before National Signing Day of his intention to not sign, it showed Illinois just might be on the outside looking in when it came to Tilmon’s future college choice. There was really no other way to view it.

A kid doesn’t abandon a plan he’s laid out since July on a whim, and certainly not 48 hours before he’s to sign with the school he’s been committed to for four months.

When was the last time a player was committed to a school for four months, let the signing period pass by without signing with that school, and then remained committed to that school for the next five months before signing in April? Has it ever happened?

The thinking was there had to be something significant holding Tilmon back, and it couldn’t be good as far as Illinois basketball was concerned. Even if they weren’t very public, there have been whispers and rumblings regarding Tilmon’s commitment to Illinois and it not being as iron-clad as some would like.

Internally, Illinois has high hopes and a confidence heading into what it thinks will be a much-improved team in 2016-2017. That, along with what was shaping up as a potential top 10 recruiting class, was to be the springboard for an Illinois basketball turnaround going forward.

Then the Tilmon “I’m not signing” news hit.

But now Tilmon knows what he’s going to do. For sure. We think. At least he says so.

Tilmon will announce his future college plans on Thursday at a ceremony at East St. Louis High School, one day after the early signing period concluded.

Now there is a school and coaching staff sitting there right now, giddy, with a faxed letter-of-intent in their possession from one of the top 25 players in the country.

This is just one man’s thinking, but isn’t there only one possible outcome now? Come on, there is no way, zero chance, any recruit could put a school through this waiting game and then choose to go elsewhere –– a day after the signing period is over?

That right there would take some serious intestinal fortitude to sign a letter-of-intent on the final day of the period, in a clandestine way, and then publicly say he has signed with a different school than he was committed to?

If it were to play out that way, then the Tilmon recruiting saga would go down as an all-timer in comparison to all the Illinois basketball recruiting heartbreaks. Yes, that includes the Eric Gordon days, the Quentin Snider de-committing on Signing Day, Cliff Alexander’s rope-a-dope hat trick and the runner-up finishes for Jon Scheyer, Demetrius Jackson, Jalen Brunson and a few others.

All of the above scenarios have left Illinois basketball fans sputtering and in disbelief, wondering: “Are we the most snakebitten college basketball program when it comes to recruiting?”

If this Tilmon thing goes any other way than the talented big fella having sent in that LOI to Illinois, then yes, Illinois fans can stake its claim to “we are the most snakebitten college basketball program when it comes to recruiting.”

But it’s time to finally say to Illini fans: relax, take a deep breath and fully expect something to go your way.

Tilmon can’t be that cruel.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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