O’Brien: Why Simeon’s Talen Horton-Tucker didn’t wind up at Illinois

Talen Horton-Tucker (5) drives to the basket on Edwardsville's Jack Mariinko (2). Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

Talen Horton-Tucker had a terrific time on his official visit to Illinois this past weekend. The Simeon senior, generally regarded as the No. 2 player in the state’s class of 2018, wanted to commit to Illinois on Thursday according to a source.

But it never happened. Horton-Tucker never gave Illinois an oral commitment because the offer was taken off the table by Illinois. How in the world did Illinois get to the point where it is passing on the No. 2 player in the state? It’s a complicated story that stretches back to the summer club basketball season.

Horton-Tucker and Morgan Park guard Ayo Dosunmu, the state’s No. 1 prospect, began the spring playing club basketball together with the Mac Irvin Fire. Horton-Tucker then left the Mac Irvin Fire to play for a different organization, Team Rose. The pair did not jell together on the court.

Horton-Tucker wasn’t able to impress college coaches the way he needed to and believed he could. Club basketball is about showcasing your skills, not winning. A player needs to be in the situation that allows him to show off the most. The decision to switch to Meanstreets and then Team Rose paid off for Horton-Tucker, he picked up more than a dozen high-major scholarship offers.

The move puzzled the Mac Irvin Fire, which made its feelings known on Twitter. But Illinois kept recruiting both players.

Last week Dosunmu committed to Illinois. It was a major recruiting coup for coach Brad Underwood and his new staff. But then things got complicated. As the week progressed and after the official visit it looked more and more like Horton-Tucker might choose Illinois.

The Dosunmu camp apparently never reached a point where they felt like they were comfortable playing with Horton-Tucker again, so the Illinois staff was forced to choose. They stuck with Dosunmu.

Illinois tried to get both players. It’s hard to blame the staff for that. When you have a chance at the two best players in the state and the Public League, you need to do everything possible to make it happen. But they should have realized before Thursday, ideally before Horton-Tucker’s official visit, that it wouldn’t sit well with Dosunmu.

In the end it left Horton-Tucker out in the cold and alienated Simeon, which has been a vocal supporter and consistent supplier of talent to the Illinois program through several head coaches. For Underwood and his staff, that is the wound that may wind up hurting the most in the long run.

Illinois did not respond to several calls for comment. College coaches are not allowed to comment on recruits until they sign a letter of intent. The Dosunmu family did not respond to several calls.

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32 comments

  • dmh

    I know that Iowa State was recruiting both players as well. The difference is that when Ayo cut his list, Iowa State did not make the cut. Ayo a few months later committed to Illinois. I think that both Brad Underwood and Steve Prohm were simply trying to recruit the best kids to their programs and the players that best fit their respective offenses and overall schemes. The big difference was with Ayo committing first, it was Underwood and Illinois that had to navigate the petty part of AAU politics, not Iowa State and Prohm. Whether it costs either program in the future, only time will tell.
    With T.J. Otzelberger leaving Iowa State for a head coaching job at South Dakota State, I kind of wondered if Iowa State lost its Wisconsin and Illinois connections. Time will tell but, short-term it looks like what Otzelberger started, Prohm was able to take over and deliver 3 Chicago-area kids and a Wisconsin kid. Prohm’s connections are mainly in the south.
    It did help Iowa State when Zion Griffin committed early, Griffin took it upon himself to be the commit-recruiter. Griffin knew who all of Iowa State’s top targets were at that point through AAU competition and helped deliver for Prohm.
    There are so few kids who make the nba in the first place, that it is dishonest for an AAU coach to tell or steer a kid one way or another based on that promise. Prohm can claim to be a pg whisperer based on the 3 guys who got drafted but, I don’t even think he promises anything since the list consists of a guy he only coached his senior season and has been on the fringes of being in or out of the league, a guy who even though was a late lottery pick has had lots of injury issues that has set his game back so far that it surprises me that his current team hasn’t cut him yet, and another guy on the nba’s new 2 way deals whom Prohm only coached for his junior and senior years. I’ll let people do their own research there since this is the Sun Times.
    I find it funny that because of one guy, Underwood had to chose. I know that Chicago has talent but, so does the rest of the country. I think the recruiting landscape is different everywhere but, you would think that the home state “big school” would handle things better than that.

  • Tom Luba

    Would going back to allowing kids to turn pro after high school help sort this out? It seems like most of the hype as to which school recruits whom is aimed at primarily future NBA possibilities. I have long hated the one and done rule. Anybody else have feelings on that subject? Would it help solve some of the problems in college basketball and level the playing field some?

  • Sue

    Omg!!! Agree it’s more than basketball. These players get a top notch education. I feel bad for everyone who tried to make this happen. EXCEPT FOR THE SO CALLED “CAMPS”. You ruined everything! These two young men might have been the next great duo. So congratulations to the “CAMPS”. Appalling!!

  • Dan

    We fired a guy bringing in a top ten class who proved repeatedly he couldn’t coach.

  • Monroe

    I just have to say. When I think that we fired a guy bringing in a top ten class…. just saying…..

  • shogun29ppg

    Amen MikeM, who cares if Simeon may be upset, 1 game-changer during the Smith era, recruiting the overhyped city kids will get you fired quick, buyer beware

  • tsmith

    Both are fine young men. Their parents are outstanding and should receive praise. Ayo and THT are among the “Elite” (pun intended) in the African-American Community due to the fact that they will matriculate at two of the finest post-secondary institutions in this country. FOR FREE! LMFAO! There is more to basketball than basketball. The culturally competent clearly understands this, while others will always miss the point. Ayo’s father is a real man and role model. Just ask his son. It is on record. Then be brave enough to ask your son or daughter. The Irvins and their programs have opened the doors of opportunity for countless of young men. They also love working with the youth. Do you? I’m not a huge fan, but damn I’ve got to give respect. I call my son’s former coaches often and thank them for their assistance in his development. I also thank them for helping me save over $225,000 in tuition and fees for my son and over $250,000 for my nephew. Do the math. There is more to basketball than basketball.

    • Chad

      My keyboard is actin up so it will be short and lil in accurate math…. I know illini have got like 3 good players outta simeon 1 which went on to NBA (Nick 1989) since then nothing so why is the simeon comnection even a thing??? Peoria has produced 5x the talent simeon has! I could say k turner, deon thomas, and nick all pre AAU i think

  • Billy Hoyle

    Give it a rest sports fans. IL has 1 Top 100 player. 1. The above comments sound like teenage girls at recess. All these sleazy, creepy “top travel programs” are a joke. Good players will be found, none of these clubs do anything positive for these kids. Exposure my a$$, college programs know how to find recruitable talent and build their teams just fine. Talk to some coaches and they will tell you Chicago is a tier 2 market now and don’t recruit it very hard partially because of the drama queen nonsense, meaning kids and coaches. A press conference for a lower mid major, I hope it doesn’t happen, but that fall is going to be hard. Hopefully the Feds aren’t done and wipe the crooked Nike, Adidas, UA mafia out of the game.

  • randy

    should have choose dePaul then he wouldn’t have had these problems

  • J

    Illinois will be fine with or without Simeon, with or without the Fire. They will just make adjustments.

  • Chris Francis

    I too think this is awful that it came to this and that people like Irvin have this kind of influence but from the coaching staff’s standpoint they had to choose long term between 2 pipelines and let’s be honest the Mac Irvin Fire pipeline is much fuller than Simeon’s. It was the right business decision. The only villain here is the Mike Irvin.

  • willie

    this is a Mac Irvin problem. how in the world Underwood gets blamed for being forced to choose after each kid said he had no problem playing with the other. AAU programs and shoe company interference are the worst thing to happen to college basketball in 50 years. (oh and maybe rick patino)

  • chitownhustler

    Here is the line that sums up the whole problem with recruiting: The Dosunmu camp!!! What the ehck does “camp” mean and why is it a factor. We all know the answer but this is the absolute #1 problem with recruiting. This should be the player and families decision plain and simple…no advisers, no coaches, no clubs /AAU guys, no one but the family and the kid period end of story end of discussion. These parents are so naive it is sickening and these leeches have their hands all over the kdis and familes they become the”camp.”. Everyone cannot stand Lavar Ball but give him credit no one has their hands n his kids decisions but him – no camp no scumbags just family.

  • Red South Alumnus

    When a player is being recruited he is considering the roster of guys he will play with which includes those already there and those being recruited in his class and the year after him. So what if he didn’t want to play with someone else. And Illinois has the right to ride with who they chose. I respect Simeon but as was stated before the ILLINI have not received program building/ changing recruits from them. Part of that blame goes to the most recent Illini coaches. I’m not worried about the future of the pipeline as Simeon will always have Mac Irvin Fire stars (i.e. Jabari) and the relationship is apparently strong.

  • Vashon

    Mike Irvin is a bottom-feeder and it doesn’t take a particularly smart person to see that. Butt he is not the issue here, if this story is true, the person to blame here is Underwood. If he compromised himself and the program in that way as far as credibility goes, he will never recover. Being a coach in the Big Ten should’ve meant to him than any one or two kids and a street level AAU guy. He got played. He lowered himself and the program to an amateur level. So congrats coach Underwood, you’re an AAU coach now. Good luck with that.

    And let me say this as well, again if this story is true, shame on Dosunmu’s parents for allowing their kid to be used that way.

  • Coach Rick

    I really don’t know where some people’s brains are in this. You can say that Brad Underwood made a bad decision by letting the Irvins’ dictate to him who can and can’t go to the Illinois program. At the same time you have to give Underwood and Coleman credit for trying up until the last minute to resolve the problem.

    Anyone who has ever coached a youth program of any kind knows from experience that the adults involved play too much of a role in all this. Be it football, basketball, baseball, softball, or any other youth sport the parents and the adults always try to dictate who is on the team and why.

    I have been an Illinois fan for over 40 years and I coached in youth organizations for over 30 years. The politics will eat you alive if you let it.

    I really believe that Underwood and Coleman did every thing they could to work this out. I have no doubt that THT would have come to Illinois if he could have! The problem is the power that the AAU programs have and the conceited arrogance of the people that run them. They have the power because they can dictate a lot to the kids that play for them. When a you an arrogant bunch like the Irvins’ that have the good players under their control you have to bow down to them, like it or not.

    My biggest hope is that the FBI investigation into college basketball will eventually trickle down to the AAU programs and clean that up as well. If we can get everyone back on a level playing field it will be better for the kids and the sports and that is what matters the most.

  • Doug

    I graduated from Iowa State over 35 years ago. I am thrilled he chose Iowa State. However, if he really preferred to commit to IL but was denied because of friction with an earlier signee,, I feel sorry for him. He should be with the team he wants to be. I’m too old for nonsense.

  • aaa

    You cannot write this without solid evidence. It’s NOT what THT said after commitment and not what illinois staff has told you. You are just spurring hatredness if you can not show evidence.

  • Coach Mike

    Sad day for high school basketball, college recruiting and Illinois basketball. Adults definitely play a roll in it. Grow up.

  • John carter

    These kids need to start going to other schools besides Simeon an Morgan park.but like college hot beds Kentucky an Duke that’s the only way they feel they can be heavily recruited an that’s sad

  • Coach

    If Illinois coaches allowed that to happen we need to boycott them and run the whole staff out town. That’s some bullshit if adults leave these kids alone they get along just fine.

  • Jynx

    Like someone stated above, the majority of Simeon players that went to illinois since Deon Thomas have been brutal, mid major types, Where was Simeon when illinois wanted Bobby Simmons, Jabari Parker, Derrick Rose, etc., etc.?

    • Chad

      AAU: Assanine Adults University! Wow, Ayo has a camp like a fighter does i wonder how many Don Kings in there tuggin on him? Most kids do not make the NBA dont let AAU supporters fool ya

  • Scott

    This has nothing to do with Ayo or his parents. It is 100% the scuz bucket Irvin. Talen didn’t kiss the ring and that pissed off scum bucket. Ayo wanted THT on the team and was recruiting him. Irvin gave the staff the ultimatum that if they didn’t pull THT’s offer that they wouldn’t get the 3 five star players on the fire who will be in the 19 & 20 classes. Irvin is piece of garbage who is bad for the game. Tucker wanted to be here, we wanted him and Ayo and his family wanted him (don’t believe the BS that they didn’t want him..they want to win and aren’t stupid). Mike Irvin on behalf of Illni Nation, Go Fornicated Yourself!

    • Cheryl

      Somewhat agree….But don’t be blindsided. Each and every person mentioned had their dirty hand in Illinois pulling back; this includes Illinois recruiter “Chin”; this is very coward like of him. I agree Mac Irvin, lets not forget about Ayo’s parents played a huge role in Illinois decision, with their showboating and bullying tactics; they should be ashamed of themselves and should be boycotted. I’ll be one of this first on the picket line and trust me there would be more than me.

    • Chad

      Yeah sounds like Ayo wasnt gonna feed tht the ball at AAU level but bet he would have for illini under BU… I hope FBI crushes AAU tjem boys would have been fine if adults didnt screw it up im pretty sure as i went through friction w a kid as a youngster over adults but we would of been fine

  • MikeM

    (Correction: four of the Simeon players transferred, not five.)

  • MikeM

    I don’t know if there’s anything more overrated than the Illinois/Simeon connection. Since Deon Thomas left 22 (!) years ago, here’s the list:

    -DJ Williams (did nothing in two years, transferred)
    -Kendrick Nunn (three OK years, then kicked off the team for domestic violence allegations)
    -Jaylon Tate (terrible)
    -Stan Simpson (terrible, then transferred)
    -Calvin Brock (an unskilled part-time rotation player on mediocre teams)
    -Bryant Notree (overrated, transferred)
    -Kevin Turner (a terrific senior year, but as a recruit he was a throw-in with Notree in the first place)

    That’s it. In a quarter century, seven players. Five of them transferred. Exactly two of them turned out to be above-average Big Ten players- Nunn and Turner- for one year apiece.

    It’s an ugly situation, but from a value perspective, I’d rather have Mac Irvin/Morgan Park on my side than Simeon. I could be wrong, but Simeon has no one in the next few years that Illinois would likely be recruiting anyway.

    THT left Ayo and Mac Irvin; Ayo didn’t leave THT. Ayo always favored Illinois and wanted to be That Guy for the in-state team; THT was set on Michigan State until they ran out of scholarships, and then had eyes on Iowa State/Georgia Tech/Xavier after that.

    It’s a situation that exposes how ugly Chicago recruiting and summer basketball can be, but those are things everyone already knew.

    • Chad

      Thank you!!! Peoria talent has killed simeon we have no connection to simeon… Nick&Deon thats it! 2 players in last 30yrs! Sadly robinson il, a town of like 5,000? Idk for sure but i know they have as many ill alumns in nba as simeon

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