Groce, Illini Still Just Missing On Big-Time Recruits

Illinois v WisconsinToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) It’s a tough time to be an Illini fan.

The football program has lost 24 of its last 25 Big Ten games. The basketball program has missed four of the last seven NCAA Tournaments. And on Tuesday, Illini hoops coach John Groce ended up on the short end of yet another high-profile recruiting stick when 6-foot-9, 245-pound banger Elijah Thomas chose Texas A&M over Illinois, SMU, LSU and Oklahoma State.

While quite disappointing for Illini fans in dire need of a pick-me-up, five-star power forward Thomas’ decision was also quite understandable. Thomas’ close friend Admon Gilder just committed to the Aggies, and Champaign is located 400 miles further away from his hometown of Lancaster, Texas, than his next most distant finalist (LSU in Baton Rouge).

Despite naming Illinois as his leader last month following an official visit to campus, home ultimately was where Thomas’ heart was. And as a result, his failed pursuit was yet another case of the Illini hearing, “It’s not you, it’s me,” following in the recent footsteps of Villanova recruit Jalen Brunson (family ties to Philadelphia), Oklahoma State recruit Jawun Evans (proximity to his hometown Dallas), Louisville freshman Quentin Snider (cold feet prompted him to stay home) and Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander (the Jayhawks’ cachet provided the biggest ego boost).

With this ultimately unfruitful string of big-time recruitments, it’s not that Groce has done anything wrong, but rather it appears that for a variety of disparate reasons with each kid, nothing has turned out to be quite right.

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