Up To Speed - 07-06-21
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There's something extremely 1997 AOL about using the internet on an airplane. I just wrote a 90 Illini post and was trying to publish it but the airplane wifi was glitchy. At one point it was down completely for a half hour. When it came back, it was worse than my WebTV system in 1998. I tried going to the Illini football roster online to cross reference something and a page with 100+ players listed in one spot just completely overwhelmed the wifi.
But when it does go through? When I was able to not only save the article but then publish it to the internet? It's the same feeling as your dial-up internet connecting on the 11th try. "I think it worked I think it worked come on come on come on….. IT WORKED." Hopefully, I've got mail.
It's been quite the week to be out of town. I left Wednesday morning and am returning tonight. To be more specific, I left at sunrise on Wednesday and should pull into the driveway at sunset on Tuesday. A true trains, planes, and automobiles trip for me as I took the train from Champaign to the Pacific Northwest and then spent five days driving from the mountains to the ocean to the city (for a wedding) and then back to the ocean. And now I'm flying home. Somewhere over Wyoming right now, I think. I'd check the app here to see the flight location but the internet just went out again.
As a result, you're more informed about Sencire Harris and Jared Badie than I am, and I'm in the 10th percentile of Illini fans who know what's going on with Kofi right now. I wrote a bunch on the train, slowly posted those articles over the next five days, and didn't open my laptop from Friday afternoon until this morning, only occasionally looking at my phone to look for news on Twitter (or to publish a post I had queued up). I'd research it all right now, but, well, you know…
That won't stop me from writing about it all, however. Who needs research when you have your feelings?
My main thought here with the Kofi thing is Dawson Garcia.
If you're not familiar with Garcia, he's the Marquette big man (more of a 4 than a 5) currently being pursued by Brad Underwood. He did the same thing as Kofi: put name in draft, put name in transfer portal, explore all options. Marquette fans are dying for him to return, but there's a chance he goes to Illinois or North Carolina.
Which means that the Illini fanbase is, well, painted into a corner. Want to get mad about the new transfer rules and "loyalty" and opposing coaches raiding your roster? Than you have to hope that Illinois does not land Garcia because that would be Brad Underwood raiding the Marquette roster. If you believe strongly in "players should stay loyal to the school they originally chose", then you should be hoping for Garcia to return to Marquette.
Of course, you're not doing that. Neither am I. You're hoping that Kofi chooses to return, Garcia chooses to transfer to Illinois, and Illinois gets preseason #1 votes. A starting lineup of Belo-Trent-Da'Monte-Garcia-Kofi has a really good chance to win it all. What a dream that would be.
But to get that dream, Garcia would have to do to Marquette fans what we don't want Kofi to do to us. Any time I tweet about this subject or write about this subject, people will respond with the very understandable "I don't recognize college sports anymore, and that might mean I'm out". I get that, I totally do, but let's see how "out" everyone is if it were were to be #2 Illinois vs. #4 Michigan in the State Farm Center in February. Note that Illinois would be #2 because of this rule.
The only real difference with Kofi and Garcia - and get ready to hear this 1,500 times if the dream scenario happens - is that the coach who recruited Garcia to Marquette was fired. A player putting loyalty aside and transferring after the season when his coach leaves is different from a player looking for a "best scenario" after a season where his team finished the year #2 in the polls.
But the principle doesn't change, I don't think. If Kofi putting his name in the transfer portal bothers you on a "but he's our guy" level - and it does me, because I'm a fan above all else - then Garcia is Marquette fans' "guy". Him pulling his name out of the draft and then transferring to Illinois would be just as offensive as Kofi pulling his name out of the draft and then transferring to LSU. Yes, there's a coaching change involved there, but I'm speaking to the #fanfeelings. Yes, it sucks when your girlfriend starts looking around while the two of you are still technically together, but then maybe we shouldn't be talking to someone else's girl. Even if a breakup looks inevitable.
This is why I will tell anyone who will listen that August is the new Signing Day. Why I've stated that the "way too early top-25" polls that come out the day after the national championship game are completely irrelevant now. Why I think that high school recruiting by the power conferences will drop off by at least 50% as the high majors wait for this kind of spring and summer movement to occur. Why "hire the assistant coach who recruited him" might be the new "hire the AAU coach".
The NCAA made transfers sit out for this very reason. It discouraged this kind of movement. As the pressure built on the NCAA to remove all restrictions that prohibited players from preparing themselves for the next level - from NIL to paying athletes to all of the lawsuits currently happening - they felt they had to remove this transfer restriction.
And the result is "Illinois could end up with Garcia and Cockburn… or neither".
I tell myself that I've 100% moved to "I'll only casually pay attention to the targets and really start to pay attention after players verbal to Illinois", but I still develop favorites. For the 10 Names You'll Learn In 2021 column back in January I picked Danny McGuire as the football recruit I wanted Illinois to land. He picked Northwestern. Then, as I paid attention to the recruits visiting Illinois in June, I had one name higher than any name on the list: Austin Brown. He picked… Wisconsin. Never, ever pick a favorite recruit.
There were two verbals while I was gone, though, and both had the kind of offer lists we're looking for with multiple P5 offers. My "pay attention to offer lists starting at the end of June"" rule comes through again. Would Joey Okla have had a Fries-like offer list had he not verballed in February? I think so. Probably a better list. Instead, in five years, when people go back to look at Okla's offer list (like they did with Nick Allegretti's list), they'll wonder why he didn't have more offers. "Early" sometimes means the offer list is irrelevant.
I'll write up more on Fries and Badie when I get to their LLUOI posts (my inbox is such a mess right now, and it's all my own fault), but for now, I'll just say that I'm pleased with the turn that this class has taken of late. Pugh, Fries, and Badie are the types of players we have to land in order to compete with Northwestern landing McGuires and Wisconsin landing Browns.
On the basketball side, I continue to be confused. Not by the recruits, who seem to fit what we want to do, but by the process. This is the third consecutive basketball recruit whose name I learned the moment day they verballed to Illinois. Actually, I don't think that's true with Reggie Bass. I think I learned about him a few weeks before he committed, but for AJ Storr (who has since decommitted) and now Sencire Harris, I learned about him when I saw "Harris commits to Illinois".
I admit to not following recruiting like I used to. Once those "my child is a college basketball insider" bumper stickers were produced, people started doing anything and everything to get their parents to put one on their station wagon. And it's so difficult, as a guy who doesn't subscribe to any site but his own to wade through all the subterfuge. So yes, that probably has something to do with my "who is Sencire Harris?" ways.
But still, I can't help but think that something has shifted here. After signing four total players in the fall over the last four years, Brad Underwood has taken three early verbals in the 2022 class. One of them decommitted, so maybe he would have only taken two had that not happened, but it's still jarring to see. All of this talk of AAU basketball finally returning and coaches getting to see players for the first time in 15 months and this is the year we take three early verbals? Strange.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. After this season, Underwood earned the right to build the roster however he wants. With the track record of the last four years (the development of Trent and Da'Monte, the targeting of Ayo and Kofi, the discovery of unknown recruits like Giorgi and Feliz), he can do whatever he wants. I just find it odd that the coach who seemed to like to recruit "late" skipped over "normal" and moved to "early".
Of course, those recruiting efforts are secondary now. This week's recruiting to-do list - try to get Kofi to return, try to get Garcia to pick Illinois - is one of the most important of his career.