CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois announced Wednesday the addition of eight football players who will join the team next season. These eight will enroll early - in January - to get a jumpstart on their Illinois careers. Those players include six junior college transfers and two high school seniors - including Centennial's Jimmy Fitzgerald. The quarterback was a three-star recruit, who chose Illinois over schools like Harvard and Yale. Fitzgerald was the leader of the state-ranked Centennial Chargers before his senior season was cut short due to a torn ACL.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Recruiting is an inexact science. Some players work out; some don't. But that doesn't lessen the effort coaches like former Illinois assistant Jay Price put in to land the top recruits. "It's a grind," said Price. "It's a mental, mental grind. It's difficult. It keeps you up."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - John Groce dominated the headlines in the offseason as he chased down some of the country's biggest recruits. It's a non-stop job trying to bring some of the top talent to Champaign. Groce signed one of the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten, but it has been some of his high-profile misses that have garnered the most publicity. There's one person in Champaign who knows better than most what it feels like to get so close, only to miss out on those five-star recruits. "It's awful. It's not fun," said former Illinois assistant Jay Price, who now coaches girls basketball at St. Thomas More.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - John Groce said Thursday he would put this year's recruiting class up against any in the country. The four-man class is widely regarded as the No. 2 class in the Big Ten and a Top 15 group nationally. Groce said La Lumiere's Jalen Coleman-Lands and Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan are two of the best shooters in the country. He likes the versatility of Simeon's D.J. Williams, who can play anywhere on the court; and he is especially proud to bring Darius Paul back. Paul will rejoin the team after one year at junior college. "He and I have talked about him becoming one of the greatest success stories of my career as a coach," Groce said of Paul. "Sometimes you gotta try to make lemonade out of lemons. At this juncture he has certainly done that."
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - There was no drama and no surprises Wednesday as John Groce signed one of the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten. It was also ranked among the Top 15 in the country. Indiana's Jalen Coleman-Lands is a Top 40 recruit nationally. Simeon's D.J. Williams and Plainfield East's Aaron Jordan signed as well. And Darius Paul is coming back to Illinois after one season at junior college.
PORT ARTHUR, Tex. - When John Groce signs his 2015 recruiting class tomorrow, there will be at least one familiar face on it. Darius Paul plans to sign with Illinois - again - after spending a year at Lamar State-Port Arthur, a junior college in Texas. Paul was on Illinois' roster last year, but he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules after he left Western Michigan. In May, though, Paul was suspended for this season after being arrested for underage drinking and resisting police. Instead of sitting out again, Paul transferred to junior college, where he could be recruited by any Division I program. He said all along he hoped to return to Illinois - and according to a press released from Paul's junior college - he will officially sign with Illinois Wednesday. Paul is one of four players expected to sign with Illinois Wednesday, along with Aaron Jordan, D.J. Williams, and Jalen Coleman-Lands.
LANCASTER, Tex. - Illinois basketball fans were on edge Tuesday as five-star power forward Elijah Thomas made his college decision. The talented big man from Dallas, Tex. had a group of finalists that included Illinois, but Thomas instead announced Tuesday afternoon he is headed to Texas A&M. Thomas picked the Aggies over Illinois, Oklahoma State, SMU and LSU. He made the announcement at a press conference at his high school in Lancaster, Tex. Thomas took his official visit to Illinois last month alongside Illini-commit Jalen Coleman-Lands. Thomas is ranked among the Top 30 players in the country, but he becomes the latest recruit to turn down Illinois in the final days of his recruitment.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - We are less than a month away from the Illinois basketball team's one and only exhibition game of the year, and on Thursday head coach John Groce talked about some of his expectations for this year's team, saying it is the deepest and most experienced team in his three years with the orange and blue. But of course most of the headlines this offseason came on the recruiting trail. Groce secured a commitment from four-star combo guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, but he also missed on a few four- and five-star recruits like Jalen Brunson and Jawun Evans. We will get a decision from Top 30 recruit Elijah Thomas in a couple weeks, and Groce said Thursday even though he has missed a handful of big recruits, he won't be toning down his approach or lowering his standards anytime soon. "We're very aggressive in everything that we do," said Groce. "We try to attack, be aggressive, and obviously we want to do it with purpose. I think that's important. You don't want to swing blind - or blindfolded. It's not like we're trying to hit a pinata. I do think that's important as well. I've got great assistant coaches. We've done a great job in that area, and we're going to continue to try to find Illini guys."
LANCASTER, Tex. - One of the next top targets on John Groce's recruiting wish list has set a date for his college decision. Dallas (Tex.) power forward Elijah Thomas said Tuesday he will make his announcement on October 21st during a press conference at his Lancaster (Tex.) high school. Thomas is a borderline five-star recruit, ranked by most scouting services as a Top 30 player in the 2015 class. Rivals.com ranks him as high as No. 20. Thomas is a 6-foot-9, 250 lb. big man, who took an official visit to Illinois alongside Illini-commit Jalen Coleman-Lands last month. Thomas will choose between Illinois, Oklahoma State, SMU, LSU and Texas A&M.
DALLAS, Tex. - John Groce received some more tough recruiting news Wednesday as five-star point guard Jawun Evans (Kimball H.S., Dallas, Tex.) verbally committed to Oklahoma State, choosing the Cowboys over the Fighting Illini. Evans is ranked among the Top 35 players in the country in the 2015 class. Illinois was considered the leader for the Dallas native earlier this summer, but Oklahoma State made a strong push toward the end.
LA PORTE, Ind. - When John Groce got the job two and a half years ago, Jalen Coleman-Lands was one of his top prospects. The 4-star combo guard is the second rated recruit in Indiana and is regarded as one of the best scorers in the 2015 class. He picked Illinois over UNLV and his home state Hoosiers. When he suits up next year at State Farm Center, he'll be the first player from Indiana to play at Illinois in 30 years. "I don't really care too much about what everyone else has to say," Coleman-Lands said of the pressure to stay in his home state. "Personally I felt like it was the right decision for me."
LA PORTE, Ind. - John Groce landed a verbal commitment Tuesday from one of the top available players in the Class of 2015, and it took some rare recruiting success in the state of Indiana to get him. Four-star combo guard Jalen Coleman, who is an Indianapolis native, announced Tuesday afternoon he will play for Illinois. "The reason I chose the University of Illinois is because they offer everything I was looking for in a school: academics, in particular the business program; the basketball system and level of competition in the Big 10; and the quality of Coach Groce and his staff," Coleman said in a statement.
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. - For the third time in the last year John Groce and the Illinois basketball team are the bridesmaids. Illinois' top prospect, Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson, chose to return to his family's roots picking Philadelphia's Villanova over Champaign and the Illini. Brunson's decision comes just ten months after Quentin Snider decommitted from the Orange and Blue in favor of Louisville. That same day, Curie big man Cliff Alexander chose Kansas over Illinois in what will forever be remembered as the hat fake. Brunson left out the drama Wednesday. He simply unzipped his sweatshirt revealing a Villanova shirt - and hat.
LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. - Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson became the latest elite in-state recruit to spurn the Illini as the five-star talent announced Wednesday he will play college basketball at Villanova. Brunson is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 15 overall recruit in the Class of 2015. He took official visits to both Illinois and Villanova before pledging to join the Wildcats Wednesday. Brunson joins a short list of elite Illinois talents, who chose to go out of state for college hoops. Head coach John Groce will set his sights now on Dallas, Tex. point guard Jawun Evans, who took an official visit to Illinois last week.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Centennial football team received some bad news on Wednesday as senior quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald announced he tore his ACL in Saturday's win over Marion. Fitzgerald, who has verbally committed to play at Illinois, will miss the rest of the season.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For the second straight weekend John Groce will host one of the best point guard recruits in the country when Jawun Evans begins his official visit to Champaign Friday. Evans is a four-star recruit from Dallas, Tex. (Kimball HS), and he is ranked among the Top 30 recruits nationwide in the 2015 class.
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Illinois recruiting target Jimmy Whitt verbally committed to Arkansas at a press conference Tuesday afternoon at Hickman High School. White is a four-star combo guard, who is ranked among the Top 60 players nationally. He took an unofficial visit to Illinois last month and had scheduled an official visit to Illinois this fall, but Whitt decided to end his recruitment. He told reporters the decision ultimately came down to Arkansas and Missouri, his hometown team.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Jimmy Fitzgerald's future is set. The Centennial senior is headed to Illinois to play football next year. But before he goes, the three-star quarterback has some unfinished business with the Chargers - a winning season and a trip to the playoffs are his only focus for now. "Having six wins in the last two seasons is fuel to the fire," Fitzgerald said. "It just makes me want to work that much harder to get to the playoffs."
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois football team got some bad news on the recruiting trail Wednesday as Sacred Heart-Griffin offensive tackle Quinn Oseland announced he has verbally committed to Minnesota, choosing the Gophers over more than a dozen high-major offers including Illinois.
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Four-star point guard Jimmy Whitt says he will visit Illinois this weekend, just a day after he listed the Illini among his final nine schools. The Columbia, Mo. (Hickman H.S.) standout is ranked among the Top 60 players in the country. He is also considering Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Marquette and others. There's a lot for Whitt to like about Illinois. They need a point guard in the 2015 class, and he also likes what he sees in John Groce and his system.
COLUMBIA, Mo. - One of John Groce's top targets for the Class of 2015 narrowed his list of schools Wednesday, and Illinois made the cut. 4-star point guard Jimmy Whitt, from Hickman High School in Columbia, cut his list to nine. That list includes Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, SMU, Marquette, California, Arkansas and Kansas State. Whitt is listed at 6-3, 170 lbs and is ranked among the Top 60 players nationally.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - South Carolina is the latest school to offers St. Thomas More star Tori McCoy. The Gamecocks offered McCoy on Wednesday. ESPN ranks McCoy as the No. 5 recruit nationally in the 2016 class. The junior-to-be holds more than a dozen offers including Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Illinois basketball recruit Aaron Jordan is working hard this summer on his game and in the weight room. The 2015 shooting guard is looking to gain weight by lifting with football players.
CHICAGO - No matter how far away basketball takes Dee Brown, he's always wearing his orange and blue. He keeps close tabs on the Illini - watching them on TV any chance he gets. As we finish our three-part series in-depth with Dee, he talks recruiting, his relationship with John Groce, and his dream of one day coaching at Illinois.
Former Illini great Dee Brown sat down with WCIA 3 to talk about baseball, music, family and coaching. Here he talks about recruiting Chicago and why John Groce can't win without the Windy City's elite talent.
JOLIET, Ill. - Former USC running back and five-star recruit Ty Isaac visited both Illinois and Michigan within the last week, and Thursday he made his decision on where he will transfer. Isaac announced via Twitter Thursday morning he is headed to Ann Arbor to become a Michigan Wolverine.
COAL VALLEY, Ill. - John Groce has been hitting the recruiting trail hard this summer looking for the next big point guard. Groce calls that position "the quarterback" of his team, and it is a big time position of need moving forward. You can imagine that was a popular topic of conversation as the Illini Caravan stopped in the quad cities Thursday night.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Illinois recruit Leron Black is one of 21 high school basketball players across the nation selected for the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team training camp.
Jacksonville offensive tackle Gabe Megginson talks with WCIA 3's Matt Wettersten about verbally committing to play at Illinois.
Jacksonville offensive tackle Gabe Megginson committed to play football at the University of Illinois Friday night. Megginson is a four-star recruit and the third player to verbal in the 2015 class for Illinois.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee has granted Lanphier's Larry Austin Jr. a release from his National Letter of Intent. Austin will now find another place to play his college basketball. He signed with Tennessee in the fall, but head coach Cuonzo Martin left to become the new head coach at California. Now Austin will get a chance to sign with another school. The Lanphier point guard had more than a dozen offers including Illinois, Missouri, Memphis and Kansas State.
Illinois football signee Malik Turner watched the Illini practice at SHG Friday night, where he played his high school ball.
Michael Finke has had a target on his back ever since he committed to Illinois over a year ago. He was the focus of opposing defenses his entire senior season - and all he did was take his game to a whole new level. The Centennial senior is the 2014 WCIA 3 area boys basketball player of the year. Finke was named an IBCA All-State selection after averaging nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior. He did it while shooting better than 55% from the field. Finke led the Chargers to an outright Big 12 title. He finished fourth on Centennial's all-time career scoring list and second in school history in rebounds.
One of the nation's top basketball recruits narrowed his list of schools on Wednesday. Lancaster, Texas five-star power forward Elijah Thomas lists Illinois among his Top 10 schools. The other nine schools on that list are: USC, Florida, Memphis, Oregon, SMU, Oklahoma State, UNLV, Ohio State and Texas. Thomas, who is listed at 6' 9'', 250 lbs, is ranked No. 9 in the Class of 2015 in the latest Rivals.com rankings.
Illinois head coach John Groce and athletic director Mike Thomas were both in attendance at Carver Arena in Peoria to watch Stevenson High School point guard Jalen Brunson in the state semifinals against Whitney Young. It was a record-setting night for the four-star recruit, who scored 56 points. That set a new IHSA state tournament record. Brunson made seven 3-PT, which breaks the Class 4A state tournament record. Whitney Young won the game 75-68. After the game, Brunson gave the middle finger to Whitney Young fans. He has since issued an apology on Twitter.
Illinois-signee Aaron Jordan was named to the Chicago Sun-Times All-Area Team Friday. The Plainfield East junior - and future Illini - averaged 20 points a game, while shooting 47% from 3-PT range. Curie's Cliff Alexander was named the Sun-Times Player of the Year and the Naismith National Player of the Year Friday.
Five-star shooting guard Charles Matthews from Chicago's St. Rita High School verbally committed to Kentucky Wednesday morning, choosing the Wildcats over Illinois and three other finalists. Matthews is the No. 1 player in the state of Illinois and No. 12 in the nation according to ESPN.
The Illinois track and field team added a three-time state champion this week. Pekin's Cole Henderson won the 100m, 200m and long jump at the IHSA State Championships last spring. He had offers to play football and track at smaller schools, but ultimately he decided to focus on track and field at Illinois.
Tim Beckman signed 12 new players on National Signing Day Wednesday, giving him 18 total new faces for next year's incoming class. It's a group that doesn't exactly have the national experts buzzing, but it does fill some positions of need.
Chatrice White is not only the most highly-touted recruit Matt Bollant has ever landed as head coach, she is also one of the most talented recruits in Illinois history. She's hoping to make an equally large impact when she arrives on campus next year. WCIA 3's Matt Wettersten sat down with White to find out what she will bring to the U of I.
Centennial senior and Illinois basketball signee Michael Finke's recent trip to the YMCA turned into a bloody mess.
If James Franklin leaves Vanderbilt to become the new head coach at Penn State - as many expect - Danville safety Trent Sherfield says he will re-open his recruitment. Sherfield committed to Vanderbilt in July but hasn't signed yet.
2015 Plainfield East guard Aaron Jordan verbally committed to play basketball at Illinois Saturday. He stopped by the WCIA-3 studios to talk with Matt Wettersten about the decision.
Illinois football recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh said this year's recruits are in a "make it or bust" class. The Illini staff signed six junior college players in the early signing period in an effort to add depth and experience at key positions such as wide receiver and defensive line.
Illinois football got a big time commitment from one of the nation's best junior college players Thursday, 6-7, 280 pound defensive tackle Jihad Ward.
An extended look at Illinois-signee Michael Finke in action against Central.
Four-star quarterback Jack Beneventi (Lisle, Ill - Benet Academy) verbally committed to Iowa Thursday night, picking the Hawkeyes over Illinois.
SHG defeated Montini 38-28 to win the state championship.
Chicago Simeon junior forward D.J. Williams wasted no time committing to play for the Fighting Illini. Making his decision before his junior season, he's the earliest a Simeon player has ever committed to play Division I basketball.
Simeon head coach Robert Smith says it is important that Chicago kids play for their home state school, and he thinks Groce and his staff are changing the perception of Illinois hoops in the Windy City.