By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Back on July 12, after Chicago Simeon hoops superstar Jabari Parker omitted the University of Illinois from his “Final 10” list of potential college destinations, I wrote that Parker had done the Illini a favor. I wrote how it was a blessing that Jabari wasn’t stringing Illinois along, if it wasn’t a serious player. And I wrote that when it comes to recruiting, second place truly is the first loser. It still is.
But can 11th place also end up being the ultimate winner?
Well, apparently, John Groce thinks so.
On Monday, ESPNChicago.com reported that Illinois’ new basketball coach is continuing to recruit Parker, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, even though Parker mentally crossed the Illini off his list six weeks ago.
Or at least did so on Twitter.
“They’re still in touch,” Parker’s father, Sonny, was quoted as saying this week about Jabari and the Illini. “You never know. You never know how things are going to pan out.”
And that’s the fun in recruiting. No, we don’t know. We don’t know if Parker will end up going to one of his supposed Top 10 schools, which included BYU, DePaul, Duke, Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Stanford.
Nor do we know if he will instead end up picking some mystery school that, say, wears orange and blue and plays ball in a mushroom-shaped arena 130 miles due south of Chicago.
We don’t know at all.
But, at the same time, Illini fans should know not to get their hopes up that Jabari will indeed bring his road show to Champaign in 2013. Because, as I wrote in July, Illinois has been down this seductive recruiting road many times before, only to ultimately be left heartbroken by the likes of Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose, Julian Wright, Sherron Collins, Shaun Livingston and others.
Too often the Illini have played the role of the bridesmaid, and not the bride. And that was why I was OK with Parker’s rejection in July – because it came so early.
My feelings were that by being left off Parker’s Top 10 list, Groce was able to dedicate his resources and energy toward recruits he has a real chance at signing. He wasn’t forced to chase a longshot merely because Parker had said the Illini had some kind of shot at him. But, as it turns out, Groce has decided to dedicate resources and energy toward chasing Parker anyway, longshot or no shot at all.
By making that decision, I admire Groce’s tenacity. I like this chutzpah from the new Illini coach. And I think it bodes well for Illinois’ future recruiting endeavors. I just don’t believe anyone should expect Jabari to suddenly announce that his favorite color is now orange.
To be sure, I’d love to see Groce stun the nation by reeling in Parker – the nation’s biggest basketball fish since LeBron James, if you ask Sports Illustrated. It would be remarkable. And, who knows, maybe Illinois is finally due to pull off a blockbuster recruiting coup.
Sonny Parker said he expects Jabari to begin taking official visits soon and trim his list of schools down to five. If Illinois somehow manages to make Parker’s Top 5 after failing to make his Top 10, then that’s legit reason for Illini Nation to get excited about Groce.
But still not overly excited about Parker.
Because, remember, until you’re No. 1 with a recruit, you’ve just got No. 2 to show for it.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.