Friday was a rough day for Illinois Fighting Illini basketball to say the least. First, they lost recruit Quentin Snider as he decommitted and signed with his hometown Louisville Cardinals. Then, Cliff Alexander shunned the Illini and decided to commit to the Kansas Jayhawks.
Like I said, tough day. But it may not be as bad as it seems on the surface. Honestly, Illinois basketball is going to be just fine, and despite what many are now saying, the arrow is definitely pointing up.
Losing Snider was a tough blow, but Illinois is well equipped at the point guard position for the immediate future with guys like Tracy Abrams, Ahmad Starks and Jaylon Tate. It certainly would have been nice to retain Snider, but again it wasn't necessarily a position of need. Head coach John Groce has time to go out and find himself another point guard in the 2015 class, and he will. Besides, Snider clearly wanted to be at Louisville all along, so I say good luck to the kid.
Thankfully, the Cliff Alexander soap opera is now over, and while many Illini fans are devastated by his decision to head to Kansas, it really shouldn't come as that much of a surprise. Kansas was a major player all along with Alexander's close friend, Jerrance Howard, on the staff, and his girlfriend is currently enrolled there. Alexander made the choice that he felt was best for him, and that's that. Illinois didn't lose him because they never had him.
All the outrage over how he handled his announcement is neither here nor there. Was the fake out with the Illinois hat a little childish? Yes, but he is 18 years old, and kids that age do stupid things. End of story. And really, who cares? Groce and the Illini staff have bigger things to worry about.
Believe me, I would have loved to have both of these guys in an Illini uniform, but they made their decisions, and it's time to move on. The reason I can say this with such confidence is that I believe in Groce. I believe that this is just the beginning for a coach that seems to exude that "it" factor.
He may have missed out on a couple of big ones in Snider and Alexander, but all that does is motivate a guy like Groce. Let's remember, he's just in his second season at Illinois, and he's already changed the culture. He has re-energized a proud fanbase by taking the Illini back to the NCAA tournament in his first season and followed that by landing a solid five-man recruiting class which included two top-75 players. His second class took a hit with what transpired but still includes two quality guys in Leron Black and Michael Finke. And actually if you include the three transfers (Ahmad Starks, Darius Paul and Aaron Cosby) who will be eligible next season, the class is even better.
There's no reason for a meltdown by Illinois fans. Groce has this program headed in the right direction, and there should be excitement, not depression, surrounding this team. He has already made huge strides in recruiting by creating a pipeline with Simeon High School in Chicago, and that bodes well for the future. He didn't land the big one this time, but something tells me that he will eventually.
Illinois basketball is in good hands, and that's what fans need to focus on. It's easy to get caught up in what they missed out on with Snider and Alexander, but while I'm busy writing this, Groce and his staff are already focused on the class of 2015 and beyond. They already have one solid verbal commitment for 2015 in D.J. Williams, and they're far from done.
As we learned in the case of Snider, verbal commitments don't always mean much, but that kid grew up in Louisville and always wanted to play for them. He committed to them early and then backed out, but he saw the opportunity to go back and jumped on it. Good for him.
I don't think losing Snider or missing out on Alexander will phase Groce and his staff going forward. He relishes the challenge of competing with the best, for the best, and in time, I think Illinois will see the results. After all, he has gotten results before. He has been credited with landing recruits Greg Oden and Mike Conley while he was an assistant at Ohio State, which proves that he is certainly capable of landing the big ones.
So while Friday was no doubt a tough day for the Illini and their fans, it in no way signifies what will happen in the future. Illinois basketball is on its way back, and fans should embrace that.
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