Illinois, John Groce lands critical 2017 five-star recrut

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Illinois landed a critical commitment in the Class of 2017 as Jeremiah Tilmon announced that he will be playing his college ball for John Groce and the Illini.

Tilmon, a five-star prospect that hails from Illinois, is a 7-foot low-post force that plays his high school ball for La Lumiere in Indiana. He is currently ranked No. 24 in the class by Rivals.

“Jeremiah Tilmon is a monster grab for Illinois. After already putting a few solid commitments together in the Class of 2017, head coach John Groce has landed an elite big man to build around as Tilmon is a great rebounder who can protect the rim and finish around the hoop,” NBCSports.com’s Scott Phillips said. “If Groce can put another quality player or two around Tilmon, he might have given himself more job security and given Illinois basketball a much brighter future.”

Tilmon’s commitment matters for John Groce more than most commitments will mean because Groce, to date, has has a disappointing tenure with the Illini. He’s coming off of an injury-plagued, 15-19 season and will be one of the names at the top of every hot seat list entering the season. There’s also no assurance that Groce will remain in place after the season, not after he had to dismiss Kendrick Nunn, one of his best returning players, during the offseason.

But there is reason for Illini fans to feel hopeful, and reason for the Illinois administration to believe Groce can still turn this thing around. After missing out on elite recruits in recent years, Groce prioritized the in-state talent outside the city of Chicago. Tilmon is one of those. Da’Monte Williams, the No. 77 recruit in 2017 and the son of former Illini star Frank Williams, is committed to Groce, as is Javon Pickett, another three-star in-state prospect. If the Illini can real in Jordan Goodwin, the No. 53 prospect in the class, Groce will have by far the best class he’s landed in his tenure with the Illini.

Will that be enough to save his job?

Well, it may depend on what he is able to do with the team he has at his disposal this year. Malcolm Hill has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player as a senior. Jalen Coleman-Lands had some promising moments as a freshman, and Tracy Abrams will be back for another season, although there’s no telling what he will look like coming off of injury.

But with this class and a successful season, Groce will be able to say, for the first time, that his program has momentum, both in the Big Ten standings and with in-state recruits.

That may be the best news that the University of Illinois’ athletic department has heard in years.