By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Back in July, after Simeon superstar Jabari Parker left the Illinois of his Top 10 list of potential college pitstops, I wrote that when it comes to basketball recruiting, second place truly is the first loser.
And it is.
But, hey, that doesn’t mean you always have to feel awful about it.
On Thursday, following a breakneck push by first-year Illini basketball coach John Groce and his staff to land point guard Demetrius Jackson of Mishawaka, Ind., the highly touted hoopster announced he was staying home to play for nearby Notre Dame.
Without a doubt, the news was a disappointment for Illinois hoops fans – and, naturally, for Groce & Co. Particularly so because probably, oh, about five Notre Dame fans truly care that Jackson is coming to South Bend, whereas an entire state would have rejoiced had he chosen to transport himself across Indiana’s seemingly impenetrable border to Champaign.
Nevertheless, the fact that Illinois lost the recruiting battle for Jackson with the Irish, who recruited him for three years, wasn’t a reason to feel bad about Groce. Rather, it would have been a reason to feel great about Groce if he’d been able to nab Jackson’s services after just five months of wooing.
Once again, the Illini indeed ended up as the bridesmaid in a high-profile recruiting battle, but this time there was valid reason to feel encouraged that they had even reached the altar.
At some point, Groce – who was key in recruiting Indianapolis stars Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. to Ohio State during his days as a Buckeye assistant – will get a kid to Illinois from the Hoosier State. I’m confident about that, and would have been incredibly impressed if he’d done it so quickly.
However, already this month, without having even coached a game at Illinois yet, Groce has managed to convince Kendrick Nunn of Chicago Simeon to join the orange and blue. And the Illini remain deep in the hunt for highly-ranked combo guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes of Huntington (West Va.) Prep.
On Friday, Rathan-Mayes – who has trimmed his list of finalists down to Illinois, Florida State and Connecticut – announced that he was “rescheduling” this weekend’s official visit to UConn. According to the New Haven Register, Rathan-Mayes was vague as to why he postponed his visit, saying only that he “just had to be at Huntington (Prep) this weekend.”
Considering that Rathan-Mayes is scheduled to announce his college decision from his home in Toronto on Oct. 13, I wouldn’t say that leaves much travel time to get to Storrs. Such news doesn’t bode well for the Huskies and leaves his most likely destinations either Illinois or FSU.
If Rathan-Mayes decides, like Jackson, to pass over the Illini – certainly a possibility considering his father played ball for the Seminoles – Illinois fans should again be disappointed, but not discouraged.
After all, it truly is impressive that Groce already has Illinois in the mix with such elite talents so early in his career. Even more so, that they hail from all over the country.
If Groce can go on to, you know, actually win some games at Assembly Hall this season too, the sky could potentially be the limit for him in recruiting. Even if the Illini end up with the rug pulled out from under them a couple times this fall.
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.