Illinois' blockbuster recruiting class for 2017 has taken another major hit.
Javon Pickett, a three-star guard from Belleville, announced Saturday that he's asking to be released from his National Letter of Intent after the Illini replaced John Groce with Brad Underwood last month.
"Thank you to the University of Illinois for supporting my family and I during my recruitment. However, after the coaching change, I experienced a level of apprehension due to the relationship my family and I developed with coach Groce. After long thoughts and prayers, I have decided to ask for my release from my NLI," Pickett wrote in a Twitter post. "Coach Underwood has been highly supportive during this transition, however I need to ensure that as a student-athlete I am putting myself in the best possible situation to succeed both as a student and athlete.
"During this period, I would like to stress that all options remain open to include the University of Illinois. I want to thank the fans and staff of Illini Nation, your support has been tremendous from the very beginning."
Pickett's announcement follows that of Jeremiah Tilmon, a five-star center, who announced earlier this week that he was requesting his release from his Letter of Intent in the wake of the coaching change.
While both Tilmon and Pickett could still end up in orange and blue, it's hard to think that one would take the drastic step of asking for a release if one was leaning toward staying with the school they signed with.
Instead, it points to Illinois losing half of its highly touted recruiting class, leaving four-star guards Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams — who have confirmed their commitments to the Illini since Underwood's arrival — as the sole members of the incoming class.
Add that to a roster that will say goodbye to a lot of members of this year's team, and Underwood could be scrambling to put together a team for his first season in Champaign. Jaylon Tate, Tracy Abrams, Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and Mike Thorne Jr. are all departing this offseason, leaving just seven returning scholarship players plus the two incoming freshmen for a total of just nine scholarship players.
While both Underwood and athletics director Josh Whitman said during recent press conferences that they would reach out to keep the recruiting class intact, the decisions of Tilmon and Pickett are understandable ones. The recruits made their commitments to Groce and now face a situation in which they'd be playing for a totally different coach. Underwood retained assistant coach Jamall Walker, who has had recent recruiting success. But the recruits were set to get something different than they signed up for, and they shouldn't be blamed for taking the opportunity to reconsider their decisions.
But these decisions won't make Illinois basketball fans too happy, as it halves what was a top-15 recruiting class in the country, certainly the best one Groce assembled in his five seasons in Champaign.