Notree/Turner 2.0 October 5, 2012
Let’s take a trip back to my college days. My days in the Crush (with a “C” back then before those voracious soda lawyers got involved). When Bamba was on campus, you could still get a ‘stack at the Homestretch, and you played pool and ate fish sandwiches at Deluxe, not Legends.
We’re talking early 90′s people. Stop chuckling like I’m 60.
The basketball team, thanks to Bruce Pearl, was on probation. NCAA sanctions said no recruiting off campus and only two scholarships per year for the 1991 and 1992 classes, so the roster was getting thin. We added Robert Bennett and Marc Davidson for the 1991 class and then Richard Keene and Chris Gandy with the 1992 class (I think I have that right). 1993 we could recruit off campus again, but we were only beginning to make inroads back into high schools. I want to say 1993 was the Shelly Clark/Jerry Hester class. In fact, I know it was. I remember Hester scoring 20 points in early December 1993 (against LaSalle, I want to say) and telling my Crush seatmate Scott that we were on our way back to becoming a recruiting force.
1994 was the class that I thought would bring us all the way back. We finally struck gold with two kids in Chicago. Bryant Notree from Chicago Simeon picked Illinois over several other high major offers (Notree was a Parade All American back then, which was one of the few ways you could say “this is a top-30 player in the country” pre-Rivals, Scout, and RSCI). And Jarrod Gee picked Illinois, too (over Duke). Gee was Mr. Basketball in the State of Illinois (rare for a small school player, but everyone hated Antoine Walker for some reason, so they voted for Gee).
21 year old Robert was quite excited about this development. I had arrived in Champaign right after the Flyin’ Illini and was expecting Final Fours and Big Ten titles. Bruce Pearl happened, we weren’t even allowed to recruit, and we watched the roster dwindle. So to get a chance to say “Mr. Basketball AND a top-30 player are headed to Champaign” felt really, really good. Had message boards existed at that point (or, you know, the Internet), I would have been all over the place declaring us to be back. We were finally making inroads into Chicago again. We got a player from SIMEON.
And then, later in the signing period, we added another player from Simeon. He wasn’t highly rated, but he fit what Lou Henson wanted to do, and we really wanted to stay connected with Bob Hambric and the Simeon program, so we offered Kevin Turner. He accepted, and we had two Simeon players headed to Champaign. This was a big deal back then.
As it played out, that 1994 class was the class that brought us back. Just not behind the player we thought. Notree only played two seasons (was it three? no, just two I think) before transferring to UIC. He could jump out of the gym. His dunk against (I want to say) Pitt was incredible – I swear he took off from the three point line. But Notree never really fit in Henson’s offense, and there were some other issues, so he transferred to UIC (where he was successful, eventually getting a cup of coffee in the NBA).
The rest of that 1994 class – Gee, Turner, Matt Heldman, even walkon Brian Johnson – ended up leading us to the 1998 Big Ten Title. Sergio and Marcus were on board by then, and then we added Frankie which led to Cook and then Dee and Deron and St. Louis and something something something Bruce Weber.
Now John Groce is in charge, and it feels like 1994. A relationship with Simeon HS is still very important to Illinois Basketball, and he made Kendrick Nunn a top priority from day 1. And after securing Nunn’s commitment a few weeks ago, Groce turned to his other top priority, Demetrius Jackson. That one didn’t go our way, which left us looking at the second tier of available point guards. Guys like Scoochie Smith seemed interested, but Groce seemed to focus on one guy: Simeon’s Jaylon Tate. He invited Tate down for a visit yesterday, offered, and Tate accepted on the spot. Two Simeon players headed to Champaign. As it should be.
So in making this comparison, am I saying that Nunn will be Notree and end up transferring? Of course not. Am I saying that Tate, the lower-ranked Simeon player, will pull a Kevin Turner and end up First Team All Big Ten as a senior? No, but I wouldn’t complain. I’m saying that it’s clear we wanted to establish a connection to Simeon. It’s obviously the best high school program in this state, and the players get a college-like development structure, so why not turn to Simeon when looking at the second tier of point guards? This kid had offers from Xavier and Providence, so it’s not like he can’t play. And we need a point guard very badly.
Next up, I think, would be a big man. I’m of the opinion that Xavier Rathan Mayes is Florida State bound – while I was pulling for Keene and Gandy above, XRM’s father, Tharon Mayes, was starring for Florida State.
*pause because I suddenly feel old*
*restart post still excited but a bit melancholy*
Even if we did get XRM (oh please oh please oh please) we’d still need another big, although we’d have to get creative with the scholarships. A true four would be best. After Griffey and McLovin graduate, we’ll have a big hole at the four with only Mike Shaw and Ibby Djimde to fill it. So I’m guessing we’ll close out the class with someone like Ben Moore (paint jokes!) or Austin Colbert (who is maybe more of a 5 than a 4).
But today, we welcome Jaylon Tate. If Nunn takes the Simeon #25, here’s hoping Tate picks #33.