Illinois Head Coach John Groce and his staff wrapped up their inaugural class in Champaign. The first thing that stands out to me is that the class in itself covers every position on the floor.
Let's take a look back at how it all went down...
Keeping What You Got:
Priority number one was hanging on to commit Malcolm Hill. When the coaching change happened, many Illinois fans were concerned that Hill would look elsewhere, but Coach Groce got right on the job and managed to keep Hill in the fold. That alone was all Groce needed to get the ball rolling
Despite the emphasis on guards in Coach Groce's system, he and his staff knew that they needed to fortify the center position. With Sam Mclaurin only having one year, that would leave only Nnanna Egwu at the center position, and that would be a problem. So Groce pursued and secured Maverick Morgan, a 6'10" 250 pound center who he had been recruiting previously at Ohio to fill that need.
Sime-ON his game:
In his biggest recruiting statement so far, Groce secured the commitment of Simeon shooting guard Kendrick Nunn. The importance of getting Nunn is pretty clear when you look at the roster and, more importantly, look at who will be graduating after this season. With both D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul moving on after this year, Illinois will have to replace a lot of scoring in a hurry. Luckily, Nunn has a scorer's mentality and attacks the basket, which is just what Groce wants from his guards.
But he didn't just stop with Nunn. After missing on point guard Demetrius Jackson, he was able to go back to Simeon again and secure Nunn's teammate, point guard Jaylon Tate. With the point guard spot being so vital to the offense, Groce made sure that he got an early start in building that position on the roster, and Tate brings not only familiarity with Nunn, but also is a plus passer.
No matter how you cut it, the re-establishment of the connection to Simeon speaks volumes to what Groce and his staff were able to accomplish.
Illinois fans were a bit uncertain about the power forward position, especially after Ben Moore selected SMU over Illinois. But a guy many wrote off burst back onto the scene and became the fifth member of the Illinois class. And from a fit perspective, Austin Colbert is exactly what Groce looks for in the power forward position. Athleticially and academically, Colbert is a great fit at Illinois.
So now that you're all caught up to speed, let's take a look at each of these guys individually and see what they each bring to the table...
One thing about Hill is for sure: He knows how to score. Hill is on pace to break his high school's all-time career scoring record this season. Last season he averaged close to 30 points per game, and should be the go-to guy for his team again this year.
Hill isn't an explosive athlete, but he's very smooth and has a great shooting stroke. He's improved his ball-handling skills significantly from last year and has a great feel for the perimeter game.
At Illinois, Hill most likely projects at the 2/3 position. He may have to work his way into the lineup at first, but that should give him the time he needs to adjust to the college game and develop as a player.
Morgan is one big dude. I got to see Morgan play a couple times during the AAU season, and he is a physical presence on the floor. He's comfortable in both the high and the low post and is a brick wall as a screener.
Morgan's offensive game will need some work, but Coach Dustin Ford is great at developing big men. Once Morgan loosens up and starts to flow with the offense, his size alone will give him an advantage. If he can add a deeper offensive skillset to his arsenal, he could be a diamond in the rough.
Nunn is probably the most gifted athlete of the entire class. He's not as tall as some point guards out there, but he makes up with it with some serious springs in his legs. Nunn is a high-riser that can also catch fire from deep.
His commitment was a big deal for Illinois. Not only do the Illini get a great player from one of the top high school programs in the country, they also addressed a need at shooting guard. Nunn is physically capable of coming in and playing early, and his familiarity with Jaylon Tate should help him acclimate quickly.
One thing about Nunn that is probably not credited enough to him is how good of a defender he is. Coach Rob Smith at Simeon places a big emphasis on defense, and it shows with Nunn, who is a great on-ball defender and shot blocker.
Jaylon Tate doesn't make a bunch of jaw-dropping plays, but he also doesn't make many plays that really frustrate you. He's responsible with the ball and limits the turnovers pretty regularly.
One of Tate's best traits is how well he is able to set up his teammates in both halfcourt and fast-break situations. He has great vision on the floor and finds his teammates. He can get to the basket when he needs to, but he's at his best moving the floor, setting up the offense, and getting the assist at the right times.
Last, but definitely not least, is power forward Austin Colbert. Colbert's patience in the recruiting process shouldn't have surprised anyone, but for some reason he slid out of the Illinois spotlight for a while. But for the Illini, he came back in at just the right time.
Colbert brings a lot of athleticism and instinct to Champaign. He's long, has bounce around the rim, and great lateral movement. The only knock on him is that from time to time he will disappear on the court, but Coach Groce's uptempo and aggressive system should bring out the best in Colbert.
If Colbert can tap into the potential people saw in him when he was labeled a top-25 player in the country, he'll prove to Illinois fans that he was more than worth the wait. And of course if basketball doesn't work out, he could always be a doctor. No, seriously, he wants to be a doctor.
So whether it's on the court or in the classroom, Colbert is surgical. Take a look at the latest and final commit of the 2013 Illinois signing class: