Connor Cagley, IlliniGuys Basketball Writer
September 15, 2021
Disclaimer: This article is based on my own research on the 2023 recruiting class. This research included other teams' recruiting boards, with a focus on the information of their own experts (the Brad Sturdy of these sites). No contact with the coaching staff has occurred during the research for this article.
Illinois will almost certainly look to grab some of the talented wings from in-state. Among them, JJ Taylor stands out. He will be a top 5 player in the country for the 2023 class and, in my opinion, will challenge for the number 1 spot. He is 6'8" and 200 pounds with a long wingspan and elite ball-handling skills. His jumper is fluid and reminiscent of a young Kevin Durant. While he has opportunities for improvement - such as his activity on the defensive side - his skillset offensively makes him a surefire future NBA player.
It’s not often to see a wing player already developing an array of post moves to go along with his slashing ability. Recruiting-wise, it will be interesting to see if he opts for the college route. He has current offers from Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona, and Michigan. This will be a tough recruitment, but Illinois should have a good pitch with NIL and him being marketed as the home-state hero.
The next prospect is another high level player from the Mac Irvin Fire program along with Taylor. Matas Buzelis is a 6'9" small forward that has elite length on defense. Although slender in build, he uses his length well to score over the top of smaller defenders. He is best in transition and slashing to the hoop. His recruitment will also be a tough one as he has offers from Arizona, Florida State, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio State, Purdue, and UCLA. While this one is early, his being in-state should provide Illinois with some advantage.
If Illinois could land either of these Mac Irvin players, it would be Illinois' highest ranked recruit of the modern era. If Illinois lands both of them, it might be Illinois’ biggest recruiting coup of all time.
While the players after Taylor and Buzelis won’t be categorized at their level, that’s nothing to be ashamed of as these two would both be categorized as top 10 players.
Asa Thomas, the next potential wing recruit, also hails from Illinois. Thomas is 6’6” and 185 pounds. His contributions to the game come primarily from shooting. He doesn’t need much space as he has an uber-quick release and enjoys high confidence in his jumper. He still needs to add to his game off the dribble, but right now he will provide excellent spacing for other players due to his off ball gravity. Thomas’ recruitment currently seems more winnable than the others as he only has offers from Iowa, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin. More offers will likely come if he plays well in his junior season.
Some other prospects that Illinois has offered, but it remains to be seen how serious they are about their recruitment are Ty Pence, Jalen Hooks, and Joey Brown.
Ty Pence is a 6’6” 180 pound small forward from St. Joseph-Ogden. He is strong with the ball and shows a good stroke from outside. While he doesn’t have any more offers from Big 10 schools yet, they most likely will come over the next year.
Hooks is a 6’6” 180 pound athletic swing man who shows flashes of potential. He has upside as a defender but is still figuring things out on the offensive end. Right now he’s best as a slasher and for him to take the next step he needs to gain consistency as a shooter from outside. He has offers from Pittsburg, LSU, Georgia, and Marquette and has received interest from Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Indiana.
Brown is a 6’5” combo-wing who has spent some time as a point guard. Not a lot of film is available to showcase what he brings to the table. From what’s out there, he shows good upside for a player his size and playmaking abilities. His only other offer is from LSU, but he has interest from Indiana, Ohio State, Purdue, Missouri, and Xavier.
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