For any school to be competitive, recruiting the top talent in the immediate geographical area is vital. For Illinois, that means the talent-rich gyms of Chicago.
And Bruce Weber and company sure did their job with the class of 2011, landing four Chicago kids who are all consensus four-star players. The resulting class is ranked the ninth best in the country by Rivals, 11th by ESPN and 13th by Scout.
The biggest catch is Mycheal Henry, a 6-6 guard out of Orr Academy rated the third best recruit in the state for 2011 by chicagohoops.com and the 39th best in the country by Rivals.
Henry is a long wing who could end up playing the two or the three but is as explosive as they come. He may need a little polish, but this kid should make an impact fairly early.
The others are Nnanna Egwu, Tracy Abrams and Mike Shaw. The group is mostly underclass verbal commitments. After losing out on some of the big in-state talent in recent years --Derek Rose and Jon Sheyer come to mind-- it was important for the Illini to find a way to put a border around the Land of Lincoln.
Getting to players early was the solution and it looks like it may pay dividends.
Egwu, a 6-foot 10-inch center from St. Ignatius, has a big, athletic body and knows how to use it on both ends of the floor. He blocks shots and has a host of moves with his back to the basket.
At only 220 pounds, though, Egwu needs to put on some weight to bang on the block in the Big Ten.
Shaw, ranked number eight by Chicago Hoops and number 59 nationally by Rivals, is a 6-8 power forward with a knack for rebounding on the offensive end. He's also a big time player around the bucket. His defense and range need to improve and there's no reason to not expect that they will under Weber's tutelage.
Abrams is one ranking ahead of Shaw by Rivals (number 58) but eight behind (number 16) by Chicago Hoops. From Mt. Carmel high school, Abrams is a 6-1 point guard is a hard-nosed, hard-working player with a blue-collar approach to the game.
Obviously, size could be an issue. But Abrams is also a bit of a streaky player on both ends of the court and must become more consistent.
A pair of out-of-state products, Ibrahima Djimde and Devin Langford, round out a six-player class for the Illini. Djimde is a 6-foot 9-inch Mali native who will likely back up Egwu in the future. Langford is a 6-5 wing with the potential to be a major contributor.
The class of 2012 has no recruits, as of yet, but because Illinois loses no one to graduation in 2011 no scholarships are available.