Those closest to the situation seemed to think that Andrew Wiggins – the No. 1 basketball recruit in the Class of 2013 – would be picking Florida State Tuesday.
But when it came time for the 6-8 Wiggins to choose, he went with the University of Kansas.
That immediately elevated the Kansas recruiting class to No. 2 in the country and it lifted Kansas from what ESPN called a “fringe top 25 team” that was losing all five of its starters from last season to No. 5 in its pre-season Top 25.
What it really does is remind everyone the impact an elite 5-star recruit can have on a program.
That’s why although there can be misses and mistakes on the rating system and projections for recruits, this much is difficult to deny: If you stock your program with 4-star and 5-star kids, there will be enough “hits” to carry your program high in the rankings and deep into the NCAA Tournament.
And that’s why Illini fans are understandably paying close attention to what the highly ranked recruits from upcoming classes are saying about John Groce at the University of Illinois.
The transfers Groce has brought in – necessary in his view as he plugs holes, balances classes and tries to be resourceful in using rather than wasting unused scholarships (I’m particularly talking about 5th-year guys) – clouds the manner in which Groce will assemble this program long-range. He’ll do that with high school recruits, including the five who will be arriving on June 7th.
I’m sure over time Groce and his staff will have a few misses, too. But for the most part, I believe in their ability to evaluate and select the right recruiting targets, to project improvement most of us can only guess at, and to develop those players to bring out the best each has to offer.
Groce won’t be the same kind of recruiter that Bill Self is at Kansas or that John Calipari is at Kentucky or that Mike Krzyzewski is at Duke. But I think we’ll find that prospects will see his own unique type of energy, sincerity and an appealing style of play that will make some of those 4-star and 5-star recruits nod in his favor.
Illinois has had some emotional recruiting losses over the years, several to Kansas and Duke. I still remember driving to the Chicago area one night 15 years ago just to be witness to Corey Maggette when he informed a local TV station he’d be picking the Blue Devils.
But everything I sense about where this Illini program is headed makes me believe as Groce marches forward, there will be plenty of recruiting victories to celebrate in Champaign, too.