As often happens when there is a head coaching change, the entrance to a school’s basketball fortress becomes a swinging door, with people leaving as others arrive.
One-time University of Illinois recruiting commits Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett apparently are leaving. They have asked for and received releases from their National Letters of Intent, which makes them free agents in the fast lane of college basketball’s spring shoppers.
I was surprised at the level of angst expressed on social media, but only slightly surprised. Illini fans are particularly sensitive to what they perceive to be a false declaration of commitment.
Fourteen years later they still have scars from Bill Self’s departure and however it happened, turn downs from players such as Quintin Snider and Cliff Alexander left permanent red welts.
So when Tilmon backed away, it stirred a familiar and sour feeling.
Please, let’s be reasonable. These are 18-year-old kids making the biggest decision of their lives. The head coach who recruited them for a period of years just got tossed out the door. Everyone’s telling them what to do.
If it’s Missouri you want to talk about, fine. That situation changed dramatically, too, and now Tilmon can look at the Tigers in a completely different way with a new coach, the arrival of the No. 1 player in the country and perhaps more talent to come.
He’s been given a chance at a mulligan and he’s taking it.
New Illini coach Brad Underwood has no choice. He’s moving on.
And move he will with a new coaching staff that appears to be the most dynamic recruiting group Illinois has had since Self teamed up with Billy Gillispie and Norm Roberts.
Jamall Walker, Orlando Antigua and Ronald “Chin” Coleman bring Underwood a team of recruiters that should give Illinois a fighting chance anywhere in the country. And with Coleman, a true Chicago insider, it should give the Illini a legitimate path to the city’s top prospects.
That swinging door is still going to get a workout. Despite the push from Michigan State and Kentucky and changing dynamics at Missouri and Indiana, Edwardsville guard Mark Smith has to see a chance to play early at Illinois. Underwood has pitched to him a chance to take Illinois on a historic return to glory.
Until Smith declares, there’s a chance.
Underwood is sifting through a long list of transfers, junior college talent, international standouts and uncommitted high school seniors. You can bet there will be roster additions.
What gets talked about too infrequently is the main reason Underwood was hired. And that’s the style of basketball Illinois will be playing.
That’s what should sell the program to current and future recruits, a stepped-up offense and a nasty defense that won’t back down even if Illinois is a little short on size and personnel this season.
Sure, it’s been a rough-and-tumble offseason. But it was a rocky run the past four seasons, a stretch that stirred enough dissatisfaction to trigger all these changes.
So far, most of the news has been about people walking out the door. Before long, there will be news about people arriving, too.