When the chips are down for any basketball program, there is nothing quite like some positive recruiting news to pump life back into it. Peoria Manual junior Da’Monte Williams provided it for Illinois basketball with a commitment Sunday to coach John Groce.
The 6-3 combo guard is the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 2 ranked college prospect in the Class of 2017 in Illinois and a consensus top 50 recruit nationally.
Big, strong and athletic, Williams will follow in the footsteps of his father, Frank Williams, who was a star at Illinois and Big Ten Player of the Year in 2001.
Groce and assistant coach Paris Parham made Williams a priority very early in the recruiting process. Illinois was the first high-major to offer and took nothing for granted with Williams being an Illini legacy.
Williams, who visited the Illinois campus on Sunday with his father, brings the type of size and game to the backcourt that translates easily to the next level. His game is actually pretty reminiscent of his father’s, though Frank Williams probably had more of the pure point guard instincts and was more advanced in making those around him better.
Illinois can certainly use a guard who can score the basketball in a variety of ways. Williams is difficult to defend on the drive with his size and athleticism, while his perimeter jumper, an area of his game that will need to become more reliable, continues to improve.
With a natural basketball presence, he’s easy on the eyes and a player you don’t have to spend countless times watching and dissecting to determine where his talent level matches up with at the college level. Nonetheless, Williams is still maturing as a player.
Williams still battles some consistency issues, particularly with his assertiveness. But when his motor is running and he’s playing aggressive, there may not be a better overall talent in the state. He showed all of that with a head-turning 37-point performance in a Pontiac Holiday Tournament semifinal win over Joliet West in December.
The Class of 2017 is critical for Groce and the Illinois basketball program. With at least five scholarships in the class, Illinois is in need of a program-changing group.
The underrated Javon Pickett of Belleville East, a multi-faceted 6-3 guard and top five prospect in Illinois, was a start. Pickett committed to Illinois last month. Williams, though, brings added punch and buzz from the perspective that he’s a recruit that has been so heavily talked about statewide. And Illinois landed him.
The push for a dream class continues for Groce and his staff, with former East St. Louis star Jeremiah Tilmon, who is currently at La Lumiere Prep in Indiana, and Belleville Althoff’s Jordan Goodwin, at the very top of the targeted list of prospects in the Class of 2017. It’s a group –– Pickett, Williams, Tilmon and Goodwin –– who are very familiar with one another on and off the court.
With the struggles the program has faced, the idea of coming together and turning the program around is the selling point to the surplus of in-state, homegrown players Illinois is targeting. There are just two pieces in place in the Class of 2017, but it’s a strong start.
If Groce and his staff can add to the early recruiting start of Williams and Pickett and haul in a star-studded class, the program –– and fan base –– can begin looking to the future again rather than the tournament misses of the recent past.
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