By: Joe Henricksen:| For Sun-Times Media
A little less than five months ago, Jeremiah Tilmon, currently a consensus top 30 ranked player in the Class of 2017, began actively selling the prospects of playing at Illinois –– to other prospects.
At the time, the 6-10 junior and East St. Louis native, who is now at La Lumiere Prep in Indiana, was gauging the interest of other players, making calls, sending texts and attempting to assemble an elite recruiting class to join him at Illinois.
It took a little more time in making the decision since those winter days, with Tilmon recently cutting his list to Illinois, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State and Texas. But Tilmon put his money where his mouth is and committed to coach John Groce and Illinois on Monday.
“I’ve known, really, since this all started,” says Tilmon of favoring the Illini. “I did think long and hard about it all, and I did want to see what else was out there and see how it all played out. But deep down I’ve known since Day 1 where I would go. Illinois was the place I’ve wanted to be.”
Tilmon, ranked nationally at No. 18 by Scout.com, No. 25 by Rivals.com and No. 29 by ESPN.com, can now pursue prospective players to join him on a whole new level –– as a committed Illini prospect.
With Peoria Manual’s Da’Monte Williams and Belleville East’s Javon Pickett already committed, Tilmon can first set his sights on friend and AAU teammate Jordan Goodwin of Belleville Althoff.
Goodwin, a 6-3 guard and a consensus top 75 prospect in the country, is fresh off winning a Class 3A state championship and impressing everyone who watched him this past spring. The fawning over Goodwin continued this past weekend while playing in the prestigious Peach Jam. Now Tilmon will begin working Goodwin to join him in Champaign.
“Now the pressure is on him,” Tilmon said with a laugh of his friend and the state’s No. 1 prospect. “I’m going to get him to come with me. I’ll be recruiting him.”
Calling this a big shot in the arm for Groce and the Illinois program may be underselling the impact of the Tilmon commitment. It’s one thing to have the new athletic director in your corner when the program is struggling; it’s another when one of the top players in the country takes the leap of faith.
“I believe in myself, I believe in the coaching staff and the program,” says Tilmon. “The job now is to raise the level of the program and compete for a national championship. We know we can win big at Illinois.”
This is a prospect who is sold on the future and potential of the Illinois program and this coaching staff. It’s also a commitment that immediately resonates with current prep players who would/could be playing with Tilmon at Illinois.
Tilmon is a prospect Groce, assistant Jamall Walker and Illinois identified and began targeting early on, before he even entered East St. Louis as a freshman over two years ago. And this is a prospect Illinois would ultimately have to beat plenty of other high-majors for.
What Groce and his staff now have is the highest ranked prospect headed to the program since he took over the program. As far as a nationally-ranked prospect, Tilmon is in the range of previous high-level recruits of past, including Peoria Manual’s Frank Williams, Lincoln’s Brian Cook, Proviso East’s Dee Brown, Waukegan’s Jereme Richmond and Robinson’s Meyers Leonard. Each one of those big-named players finished as consensus 19-29 prospects in the nation.
In addition, this is a highly-ranked player with size and at a premium position. It’s tremendously difficult to land a true big man prospect who also has immense talent and potential.
Tilmon is a nimble big with footwork and natural strength. He can run the floor, protect the rim defensively and shows a soft touch. While he is still just scratching the surface of what he can become, Tilmon is a sheer physical presence around the basket at both ends of the floor.
The Illinois basketball program is obviously not where it wants or needs to be. The off-the-court issues on top of missing three straight NCAA Tournaments have been beaten to death. But Groce, his staff and the program can only live in the present day, push forward and build for the future.
With current sophomores Jalen Coleman-Lands and Michael Finke, redshirt sophomore Leron Black, an incoming point guard in Te’Jon Lucas, along with what is shaping up as being a potentially program-changing recruiting class, the future is what Groce can and continues to sell.