Illinois Basketball: Introducing Fighting Illini's 2014 Recruiting Class

Ryan Curi@rcuri1Featured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

Illinois Basketball: Introducing Fighting Illini's 2014 Recruiting Class

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The 2014 recruiting process was an interesting one for coach John Groce and the Fighting Illini program, to say the very least. Heading into signing day, three high school seniors had given verbal commitments, with a potential fourth player joining the strong class.

    Michael Finke, Leron Black and Quentin Snider were those three players, with 5-star recruit Cliff Alexander in the mix until the very end. But on November 15, Snider decided at the last moment to sign with his hometown Louisville Cardinals, whom he had recently decommitted from before giving Groce his word.

    The afternoon got worse though, as Alexander not only chose the Kansas Jayhawks as his collegiate destination but also did so in a mocking manner by picking up the Illinois hat before flip-flopping to KU. Another stinging element is that former Illinois head coach Bill Self and former assistant Jerrance Howard had landed this monster recruit. 

    Nonetheless, the future is bright for the orange and blue. Illinois lost only two seniors, neither of whom started the second half of the season. In addition to this now two-man recruiting class, the Illini will also have a trio of transfer players eligible to play at the beginning of the 2014-15 season.

Leron Black

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    Black, a 6'7" and 225-pound forward, is currently ranked 44th in ESPN100 recruiting rankings. Black committed to the Fighting Illini program on September 1, 2013, leaving offers from Indiana, Baylor, UCONN, Florida, North Carolina State, Ohio State and Tennessee on the table.

    In fact, Black decommitted from the Baylor Bear program in January 2013. Black hails from Memphis and was considered in many eyes as a snub in the most recent McDonald's All-American game. Still, he averaged 20.2 points and 12.9 rebounds, en route to winning Tennessee's Gatorade Player of the Year.

    Black will compete for the starting power forward position from day one. He will be in direct competition with sophomores Malcolm Hill and Darius Paul for that slot, though regardless of who wins out it is clear Black will have an impact as soon as he steps on campus in Champaign-Urbana.

    As evidenced by his highlight video, Black is an excellent transition player who can handle the ball well for his position. Black, like many youngsters, is lanky and hasn't completely filled out his body yet with muscle. What he lacks in size, he will make up for in work ethic and rebounding ability, two attributes that cannot be taught. By his upperclassman years, Black will be a star in the Big Ten Conference.

Michael Finke

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    Ironically, both 2014 recruits are power forwards. The 6'9", 210-pound Finke comes from Illinois' own backyard, joining Rayvonte Rice as a fellow Champaign product on the Illini's roster. Finke's offers included Green Bay, Iowa, Kansas State, Purdue and Wisconsin, before the local kid settled on Illinois on December 12, 2012.

    Finke is a stretch 4, playing a similar role to the likes of Tyler Griffey and Jon Ekey in recent Illinois basketball history. Though not an ESPN100 selection, Finke is considered a 3-star recruit and the 35th-best player in the region.

    After watching the above highlight video of Finke, I came away impressed. Not only is he a knockdown shooter, something Illinois sorely lacked a year ago, but also it is clear he is a high-IQ basketball player. While adding strength will be a key to Finke's development, his feel for the game and nature as a team player will go a long way.

    A year ago, Illinois may have had as little depth as anyone in the Big Ten, starting the season with freshmen at each of the five backup positions. That won't be the case this season, however, which likely means Finke's playing time will be seldom, at least as a true freshman. As a guess, Finke and Austin Colbert will round out Illinois' rotation as the 12th and 13th men, but prove me wrong fellas.