CHAMPAIGN — The choice of a college for a highly sought high school athlete often becomes a spectacle nowadays, but sweep away the bright lights and manufactured drama and it’s still supposed to be a moment of great joy.
A teenager who has been offered multiple college scholarships is making a life-changing decision.
Funny, then, that through a veneer of smiles Thursday night, the decision by Chicago Simeon High School basketball player Talen Horton-Tucker to attend Iowa State seemed tinted with some regret.
Horton-Tucker picked Iowa State over his other two finalists, Illinois and Xavier.
Unfortunately, this smacks of a story that nips at the greasy underbelly of college recruiting.
Just last weekend Horton-Tucker visited the Illini and by all accounts had a wonderful visit. He said so. His family said so.
His visit came one weekend after Chicago Morgan Park guard Ayo Dosunmu, the No. 1-ranked player in the state, had a positive campus visit and Thursday night’s decision was one week to the day after Dosunmu picked Illinois.
And as of Wednesday, Horton-Tucker wanted to pick Illinois, too. A number of sources who had inside knowledge of the situation said so.
But things changed and the Illinois coaching staff was apparently given an ultimatum: If they took Horton-Tucker, there was a possibility that Dosunmu might change his mind and Illinois’ long-term relationship with AAU power Mac Irvin Fire would be broken.
Or, Illinois could stick with Dosunmu, force Horton-Tucker to either Iowa State or Xavier and alienate his high school program, Chicago Simeon, which for nearly 30 years had provided a pipeline of talent for the Illini.
For now, Illinois has Dosunmu and a relationship with the Mac Irvin Fire. But Illinois does not have Horton-Tucker and its relationship with Simeon appears to be largely damaged.
Bad feelings developed earlier this year when Horton-Tucker quit the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team that also included Dosunmu. The reason: Horton-Tucker wanted a chance to showcase his talents with the hope of earning more scholarship offers.
His strategy worked. Horton-Tucker joined the Team Rose squad and played well enough that a number of offers came his way, including Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota.
So while Illinois recruited both and hoped both sides could see beyond any bad feelings created months ago, adults with influence in the matter dug in their heels and refused to see compromise. And Illinois had to make a choice.
So on Thursday, those who know Horton-Tucker said he was forced to pick Iowa State by default.
After the announcement, his mother, Shirley, reached out to Illini fans through Kedric Prince, a freelance writer for the Dispatch-Argus.
“I would like to tell all the Illini fans…we love how classy they are. On our visit we can honestly say we never experienced anything like it. We know you love your basketball and it was truly obvious to my family, especially Talen. We did what we had to do and what was best for Talen.”
Deon Thomas, the career scoring leader for the Illini and a Simeon grad, learned of the outcome earlier in the day and broke the news on Twitter with a telltale hastag: #sad.
Meanwhile, Iowa State coach Steve Prohm has cleaned up in the state of Illinois, getting commitments from the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4-ranked players — Corliss big man George Conditt, Hinsdale South’s Zion Griffin and now Horton-Tucker, a 6-5 wing with a big upside.
Illini coach Brad Underwood still has two unfilled scholarships for his 2018 class.