Fact or fiction? Setting the record straight on the biggest recruiting stories

Belleville West's EJ Liddell is in the stretch run of his recruitment. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.
Belleville West's EJ Liddell is in the stretch run of his recruitment. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

With the stretch run in recruiting upon us, where prospects are lining up visits and trimming their lists, it’s time for a check on a few items and determine if the stories surrounding these players and the programs recruiting them are fact or fiction.

FACT or FICTION: Belleville West star E.J. Liddell doesn’t have a favorite

Verdict: FICTION

While Liddell has been pretty emphatic that he doesn’t have a particular favorite in his recruitment, it’s difficult not to believe there isn’t one –– or a couple –– that currently stand out above the rest. Are all five finalists really on a level field in Liddell’s mind as he heads into his September and October visits?

That’s not to say something could shift as the visits take place, but he’s been heavily recruited for quite some time by a number of the five finalists. He knows and is familiar with them. There has been a lot of time, conversation and interaction between Liddell and several of the schools and head coaches on his list. He’s made multiple trips to both Illinois and Missouri. He’s been on the campus of Kansas State and visited Ohio State in June.

When you add the strong surroundings Liddell has in place at home and at Belleville West, along with his keen sense and maturity, it’s hard to imagine Liddell doesn’t have a sense or a strong feeling towards a couple of schools in particular.

To Liddell’s credit, he and those around him have kept it very close to the vest. There have been assumptions in this recruitment but very few ironclad facts.

Now you can expect the family to bunker down and for his recruitment to go a little silent here for the next several weeks.

Ayo Dosunmu is the jewel of Illinois' 2018 recruiting class. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Ayo Dosunmu is the jewel of Illinois’ 2018 recruiting class. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

FACT or FICTION: Illinois recruiting is in dire straits

Verdict: FICTION

Yes, there have been a lot of swings and misses. But Illinois has ramped up its amount of swings since coach Brad Underwood and his staff took over 17 months ago. And there have been some big misses. But you have to let this one play out.

This year’s freshman group, while maybe not off-the-charts good, is understated and rock solid. It’s the type of class, led by Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu and out-of-state wings Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin, you can lay a foundation with and build from there, along with current sophomores Trent Frazier and DaMonte Williams.

However, this November is going to be telling and pretty critical. Who Illinois can sign during this early period will tell a lot about where the program is headed. If it can add two really good, preferably top 100-type pieces, to it’s probable three-man class –– on top of the aforementioned group of players –– the rebuild is still pushing in a positive trajectory. Maybe it’s not quite as fast as the majority of Illinois fans would prefer, but it’s pushing positively forward, nonetheless –– if it can get the job done this fall with this Class of 2019.

It’s challenging making a living recruiting and finishing off the bulk of your class in the spring, which Illinois did this past year. Jones, Griffin, Anthony Higgs, Andres Feliz, Samba Kane, Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Adonis De La Rosa are all new to the program. And all seven of them were added late, committing in the spring and summer. That’s not a typical recruiting blueprint.

The swing and miss with Kahlil Whitney should not have been too big of a surprise. He became more of a dream as his ascent rose into being a top 20 national talent level and Blue Blood territory.

Yes, Illinois missed on Terrence Shannon –– or have they? The blooming athletic 6-7 forward has de-committed from his commitment from DePaul, so …

And the fact E.J. Liddell will visit four other schools officially before he gets to his Illinois visit is cause for some nervousness (How many top-level prospects go through five exhausting official visits and stretch those visits out from Sept. 1 to Oct. 12?).

But Illinois fans need to let this Class of 2019 recruiting class play out before being too dramatic and over-the-top on the future and fortunes of Illinois basketball and its recruiting. Dire straits is when you sign a class of Charles Jackson, Chester Frazier and Jamar Smith and follow it up a year later with a class of Richard Semrau and Brian Carlwell.

Loyola's Porter Moser talks to Lucas Williamson (1) at the Final Four. AP Photo/Eric Gay.

Loyola’s Porter Moser talks to Lucas Williamson (1) at the Final Four. AP Photo/Eric Gay.

FACT or FICTION: Loyola and Porter Moser are capitalizing on Final Four run.

Verdict: FACT

Well, so far …

The angst in the voices when listening to some mid-major coaching staffs when learning Loyola is digging in on a prospect is reverberating. That says a lot about where Loyola and coach Porter Moser and his staff are in recruiting.

But that’s the type of cache Loyola has right now after that memorable and far-reaching run to the Final Four this past spring. Throw in a $18.5 million practice facility that broke ground this past spring and a chunk of returning talent in the program and Loyola is at an entirely different level.

Moser and his staff have been careful with their recruiting targets and not swaying too far from what they consider the “Loyola norm,” both in terms of fitting stylistically and culturally.

Both Paxson Wojcik, a 6-4 shooting guard who plays at La Lumiere in Indiana, and Naperville North’s Tom Welch have already committed and are ideal fits. Wojcik is a tough, competitive and savvy perimeter defender who will knock down a shot. His style and playing mantra is ideal for Moser and the culture he’s built in Rogers Park.

Welch is among the state’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2019. A versatile forward who is pushing towards 6-8, Welch fits perfectly with the current big men in the program, including 6-9 sophomore center Cameron Krutwig, 6-9 freshman center Franklin Agunanne and 6-7 sophomore Aher Uguak, who sat out last season after transferring in from New Mexico and can play all over the floor. Welch can be utilized in a variety of ways and is one of the real outstanding recruiting wins for Loyola among all the in-state prospects.

If Loyola can land one of its prime remaining targets, Brother Rice guard Marquise Kennedy –– another top 10 player in Illinois in the senior class –– it’s a recruiting class that would rank among the best in the program’s history.

Terrence Shannon recently decommitted from DePaul. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Terrence Shannon recently decommitted from DePaul. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

FACT or FICTION: With his decommitment from DePaul, Terrence Shannon’s recruitment is wide open.

Verdict: FACT

When a player abruptly de-commits –– in this case immediately after committing –– there is usually a lot to unpack and figure out. One general assumption is there is another landing spot ready and waiting for the prospect. That does not appear to be the case with former Lincoln Park star Terrence Shannon, who committed to DePaul Aug. 12 and de-committed one week later.

The late-blooming athletic forward is a young player who knew and understood who he was as a player. It’s why, very early on, he embraced the idea of going the prep school route for a year. He knew where he was at with his development as a player, what he still needed and how young he was for his class. It was important for Shannon to find more time to develop his game and body.

With classes not beginning at DePaul until after Labor Day, the notion that Shannon could end up with the Blue Demons as a Class of 2018 recruit rather than a Class of 2019 recruit became an option for all involved. But in reality it went against everything Shannon had already decided, which was to get the extra year via the prep school route.

Terrence Shannon and those close to him believed the decision was rushed and a bit premature. As his mother told the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Monday afternoon, “He just felt like he needed more time to think it over.”

Now Shannon, who is at IMG Academy in Florida, is back on the open market. Shannon is expected to take his time, let this play out and take more visits, beyond his final short list of DePaul, Illinois, Florida State and Maryland, as he determines his college future destination.

Texas Tech is a new school that’s jumped in and is trying to line up a visit. Ohio State and Virginia Tech are two others who are involved as the list could grow before it’s dwindled down.

Uplift's Markese Jacobs is one of the area's few high-major players so far in the 2019 class. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.

Uplift’s Markese Jacobs is one of the area’s few high-major players so far in the 2019 class. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.

FACT or FICTION: There will be more high-major recruits in the Class of 2019 than in recent years?

Verdict: FICTION

Last season, with the late-blooming arrival of a few prospects, there were five players who signed with high-major programs, with three of them –– Talen Horton-Tucker, Zion Griffin and George Conditt –– signing with Iowa State. Ayo Dosunmu is at Illinois and Xavier Pinson at Missouri.

The Class of 2017 had Edwardsville’s Mark Smith (Illinois/Missouri), East St. Louis’ Jeremiah Tilmon (Missouri), Stevenson’s Justin Smith (Stevenson), Peoria Manual’s DaMonte Williams (Illinois), Evanston’s Nojel Eastern (Purdue), Bolingbrook’s Nana Akenten (Nebraska) and Belleville West’s Javon Pickett (Illinois/Missouri) all signing with high-major programs.

There were five high-major recruits in the Class of 2016 when you include Simeon’s Zach Norvell to Gonzaga. The Class of 2015, headed by Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson, and the Class of 2014, which included three McDonald’s All-Americans (Young’s Jahlil Okafor, Curie’s Cliff Alexander and Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis) had 13 different players sign with high-major programs.

This year? E.J. Liddell and Uplift’s Markese Jacobs are locked in as high-major players. Will Curie’s DaJuan Gordon join them? This will be the fewest high-major prospects the state has produced since the forgettable Class of 2012.

FACT or FICTION: The talent level in Illinois remains alarmingly down.

Verdict: FACT

The Class of 2017 in Illinois wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t a write-home-about class but it’s one that produced seven high-major players and others who are thriving at the mid-major level. The Class of 2018 turned out better than anticipated with the late-blooming talents of Corliss’ George Conditt, Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin and Lincoln Park’s Terrence Shannon.

But if you take a five-year sample size out of Illinois, starting with the Class of 2016 and ending with the current Class of 2020 (the current junior class in Illinois), it’s something we’ve never seen in state history. That’s not being dramatic, either.

There has been a notable drop in both high-level talent and Division I depth since the Class of 2016. And the numbers clearly prove that with the number of high-major players and Division I players overall as early signs point to the Class of 2019 and Class of 2020 not really being able to turn the tide.

There were only 28 players in the Class of 2018 who signed with Division I schools, t though there are several bonafide Division I prospects who went either the prep school or junior college route. Those numbers will be right about the same in the Class of 2019. The numbers are down in comparison to past averages.

There will be a maximum of two, possibly three, high-major players in the Class of 2019 out of Illinois. In the Class of 2020? Adam Miller, Tyler Beard and, if he stays in Illinois, D.J. Steward, are the three players with high-major interest and offers in the junior class. Factor in a late-bloomer or two and the high-major numbers again remain very slim.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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8 comments

  • Steff

    It’s funny how the classes in recent years are considered slim in “High Major” talent the eye test and experience should have you raving about the talent in this state it’s the overlooked guys like Kejuan Clements and LJ Johnson etc. who should be held up “High Major” is an outdated and overrated term there is and always will be superb talent in Illinois; the Chicagoland in particular, it seems as if though the downstate boys relate more to Missouri and the St. Louis area; let em

  • Saltlife

    Illinois Basketball is in great shape finally. New coach Brad Underwood finally has aroster of players that can play his system and it will show this coming season. With the addition of another couple of super talented and ready to play low post players for 2019, Illinois could be back in contention for Big Ten championship by 2019-20 season. They have bewcome an exciting team and will surprise a lot of people this year.

  • James

    Last years class was their BEST in years. The next Boatwrong is a player out of NY named Griffin. Higgs/Sumba are up and coming BIGS! If Adonis the Transfer can BANG a little down low like Shaq Illinois will be fine!

  • shogun29ppg

    The kid Liddell, I thought he was good until I saw him this summer against like sized individuals. He looked slow an unathletic, which I kinda thought, just casually watching him at state. He’s just another guy that’s more physically mature than those he’s presently playing against in Illinois, definitely not a program changer, unless it’s Illinois, they could use him, but then again they could use anyone, they need talent.

  • shogun29ppg

    U of I hasn’t been nothing since they let Ryan Boatright, Frank Kaminsky and other local high schools stars out of state, instead they chase these cats from Florida and stuff, that aren’t as good as the players they already have, plus they continually get these down south players that aren’t worth the salt in their bread. Uof I is an embarrassment to the state and it’s basketball culture. They could have hired a local guy and sky would be the limit.

  • James

    Joe is right! Illinois fans need to “let it play out!” In the mean-time take in a concert in Tinley Park to take your mind off recruiting/Cal/Kentucky/Whitney and Shannon:
    22-J. Priest/Deep Purple 24- Gov. Mule 25-M. Lambert/Little Big Town 29-5 Finger Death Punch/ B. Benjamin 8- Counting Crows (the lead singer is kinda scarey to look at but I like his voice!)

  • shogun29ppg

    much ado about nothing, none of these players is a program changer, must be hard trying to find something or someone to talk about. Illinois basketball sucks right now, no real stars to hang your hat on, I don’t foresee any upcoming stars to latch on too, once again where’s the next Boatright?

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