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Illinois hoops lands prized recruit Jeremiah Tilmon

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

BY JOE HENRICKSEN

A little less than five months ago, Jeremiah Tilmon, currently a

consensus top-30 ranked player in the Class of 2017, began actively

selling the prospects of playing at Illinois –– to other prospects.

At the time, the 6-10 junior and East St. Louis native, who is now at

La Lumiere Prep in Indiana, was gauging the interest of other players,

making calls, sending texts and attempting to assemble an elite

recruiting class to join him at Illinois.

It took a little more time in making the decision since those winter

days, with Tilmon recently cutting his list to Illinois, North

Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State and Texas. But Tilmon put his money

where his mouth is and committed to coach John Groce and Illinois on

Monday.

“I’ve known, really, since this all started,” says Tilmon of favoring

the Illini. “I did think long and hard about it all, and I did want to

see what else was out there and see how it all played out. But deep

down I’ve known since Day 1 where I would go. Illinois was the place

I’ve wanted to be.”

Tilmon, ranked nationally at No. 18 by Scout.com, No. 25 by Rivals.com

and No. 29 by ESPN.com, can now pursue prospective players to join him

on a whole new level –– as a committed Illini prospect.

With Peoria Manual’s Da’Monte Williams and Belleville East’s Javon

Pickett already committed, Tilmon can first set his sights on friend

and AAU teammate Jordan Goodwin of Belleville Althoff.

Goodwin, a 6-3 guard and a consensus top 75 prospect in the country,

is fresh off winning a Class 3A state championship and impressing

everyone who watched him this past spring. The fawning over Goodwin

continued this past weekend while playing in the prestigious Peach

Jam. Now Tilmon will begin working Goodwin to join him in Champaign.

“Now the pressure is on him,” Tilmon said with a laugh of his friend

and the state’s No. 1 prospect. “I’m going to get him to come with me.

I’ll be recruiting him.”

Calling this a big shot in the arm for Groce and the Illinois program

may be underselling the impact of the Tilmon commitment. It’s one

thing to have the new athletic director in your corner when the

program is struggling; it’s another when one of the top players in the

country takes the leap of faith.

“I believe in myself, I believe in the coaching staff and the

program,” says Tilmon. “The job now is to raise the level of the

program and compete for a national championship. We know we can win

big at Illinois.”

What Groce and his staff now have is the highest ranked prospect

headed to the program since he took over the program. As far as a

nationally-ranked prospect, Tilmon is in the range of previous

high-level recruits of past, including Peoria Manual’s Frank Williams,

Lincoln’s Brian Cook, Proviso East’s Dee Brown, Waukegan’s Jereme

Richmond and Robinson’s Meyers Leonard. Each one of those big-named

players finished as consensus 19-29 prospects in the nation.

In addition, this is a highly-ranked player with size and at a premium

position. It’s tremendously difficult to land a true big man prospect

who also has immense talent and potential.

Tilmon is a nimble big with footwork and natural strength. He can run

the floor, protect the rim defensively and shows a soft touch. While

he is still just scratching the surface of what he can become, Tilmon

is a sheer physical presence around the basket at both ends of the

floor.