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CHAMPAIGN – If I were to say I saw Cliff Alexander Wednesday and he leaned his long body slightly to the left, it would send shock waves throughout the Tweetosphere.

“Which way was he facing?” someone would frantically ask.

If Big Cliff was facing north, a leftward lean could indicate something favorable for Kansas. If he was facing south, a leftward lean could mean DePaul.

Or he could simply be facing toward his future home, in Champaign. Or maybe peering beyond Champaign to Memphis, heaven forbid.

Whatever is said, thought or imagined about the Chicago Curie High School basketball prospect leads to rampant speculation nowadays as fans try to read the Big Cliff tea leaves to guess what he’ll say at 3 p.m., Friday when he plans to announce his college choice on ESPNU.

To Alexander’s credit, he’s done a masterful job keeping fans enthralled.

He’s the puppet master, using the strings of the internet to bounce fans into a dizzying mess.

Again to Alexander’s credit, he has either done a wonderful job concealing his secret, or he is still mulling his decision and is yet to decide.

If a teenager can successfully keep a secret for any length of time, he certainly earns my respect. As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Three may keep a secret…if two of them are dead.”

At the risk of adding to the speculation, let me report this one nugget of fact:

Wednesday is “signing day” and for as long as I can recall, the University of Illinois has proudly held a press conference on this day to brag about the next basketball recruiting class. We already know that coach John Groce has three commitments for that class, Champaign’s Michael Finke, Memphis’ Leron Black and Louisville’s Quintin Snider. We’d been told there was a 75 percent likelihood that some kind of press conference would be held today, the only hangup being Groce’s schedule due to tonight’s game against Valparaiso.

But at mid-day on Tuesday we learned there will be no signing day press conference today.

The NCAA allows schools just one press conference specifically to announce a recruiting class. So if Groce had conducted a press conference to welcome the three commits today, he could not have staged another to announce an additional commitment. By deciding there will be no press conference today, it naturally makes one wonder.

Are they waiting to include Big Cliff?

Do they already know something?

I could pretend to know something, as some have, but I’m being honest when I say that Cliff is truly keeping everyone in the dark.

A leak could develop if he calls coaches of the three schools he won’t be picking and tells them the bad news. Once he shares the secret, it no longer becomes a secret.

But he may keep all the coaches hanging by a thread until he makes everyone twitch with one more pull of the strings on Friday.

I’ve been through these deals before.

I remember driving to a television studio in the west suburbs of Chicago on a rainy night in 1997. I arrived there with the late Peoria sportswriter, Gary Childs, and we decided to be there in person to witness Corey Maggette eyeball two caps and choose between them – Illinois or Duke.

Maggette had visited Illinois and a crowd of 2,000 turned out at Huff Hall to make him feel loved. Then he visited Duke, where they apparently made him feel more loved.

When it finally happened on that rainy night, and when Maggette slipped on the Duke cap, Gary and I looked at each other and wondered what kind of fools we were.

“Long way to drive for a disappointment we probably knew was coming,” he said.

Yep.

I can’t say what Cliff Alexander will do on Friday.

But I know Groce has made a compelling case that Alexander can be a “legacy player,” a program-changer, and I believe the way Groce and his staff presented their case to him and his family was a powerful message, indeed.

Unlike what happened with Maggette in 1997, if Alexander fails to pick Illinois I won’t feel like I knew it all along.

I’ll be caught in his web of suspense, just the way he seems to enjoy it.

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Sports Columnist

Sports columnist for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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