Preps Talk

How NIU is getting it done on recruiting trail despite quarantine

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USA Today

How NIU is getting it done on recruiting trail despite quarantine

While the country has remained in quarantine, Northern Illinois University head coach Thomas Hammock and staff have stayed busy. The Huskies landed 10 known verbal commitments to its Class of 2021, and have kept a steady growth the past month.

So how has NIU kept the momentum going on the recruiting trail during the NCAA dead period?

"I know for myself, a big part of the appeal was just the whole atmosphere at NIU," Aurora Christian and NIU commit junior QB Ethan Hampton said. "NIU has a great staff and they truly care for the players. NIU is always very competitive and they have a great track record over the years of success."

Hampton pointed toward NIU head coach Thomas Hammock as a key in attracting and landing commitment. 

"Coach (Thomas) Hammock is just way more involved with the whole recruiting process than any other school that was recruiting me,” Hampton said. “At other schools you might meet the head coach for a few minutes then they disappear. Coach Hammock was with the recruits and the families the entire time I visited NIU. Coach Hammock, along with the rest of the NIU coaches, are always interacting with all of the players making visits. They also stayed in touch with me and we had several discussions and this was even before they offered me."

Are there any other factors?

The early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the Huskies are building up strong connections to recruits very early in the process.

"NIU was one of the first schools who really recruited me," Richmond-Burton junior offensive tackle and NIU commit Luke Eckardt said. "They started stopping into school pretty regularly and NIU was the first Junior Day I was invited to attend. After the NIU Junior Day things started to really get going and we started to get to know each other really well and things took off from there."

Hammock’s NIU program, in some ways, has taken a page out of former Huskies coach Joe Novak's recruiting playbook. Like Novak, Hammock is building a foundation of in-state names then working its way out of state to fill up a recruiting class.

NIU currently has 10 known verbal commitments to the Class of 2021 so far this spring, six of which are in-state commitments. That list includes Solorio S Brian Whitsey, Batavia WR Trey Urwiler, Aurora Christian QB Ethan Hampton, Sterling DE Trevon Jordan, Richmond-Burton OL Luke Eckardt and Marian Catholic RB Tajheem Lawson. 

Also taken from the Novak recruiting how-to is that NIU is not putting out hundreds of offers. NIU currently has just 61 known scholarship offers extended in the Class of 2021. This is certainly on the low end for verbal offers that have been extended in the Mid-American Conference. The Huskies make sure to get to know their recruits before offering a scholarship, and that approach undoubtedly adds more value.

With no spring evaluation period this year — and the summer camp circuit still in question because of the ongoing pandemic — NIU is placing trust in its recruiting board and evaluations. While the DeKalb school has certainly extended early scholarship offers to several highly-ranked in-state names, they have also not hesitated to extend offers and take commitments from lesser known names. 

RELATED: IHSA cancels all spring sports state tournaments due to coronavirus pandemic

Here’s an example: The aforementioned Jordan (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) had just one FBS-level offer (NIU) and was drawing limited recruiting interest. But Jordan has the length, frame and upside potential to develop into a high level player and a major sleeper. And Eckardt (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) played his last high school game in late November at Huskie Stadium in leading Richmond-Burton to a 4A state title. Eckardt, who at 270­­ pounds still looks thin, is another potential leader who has the raw tools, frame and potential to develop into a bigger, stronger high-level player in college. 

What’s the downside of all these early verbal commitments?

I have no doubts that higher profile FBS schools will continue to recruit the kids who have already pledged to NIU. The Huskies have lost their share of names over the years. But they’re betting that the early work and loyalty to those verbal commitments will pay dividends.

While winning a recruiting title in April means very little, it's clear that NIU is having early recruiting success.

MORE: Football coaches react to IHSA summer showdown

Max Christie selects Michigan State over Duke, several Big Ten schools

Max Christie selects Michigan State over Duke, several Big Ten schools

Sparty Nation got another reason to flex. And it may have Coach K seeing green.

Max Christie, a five-star shooting guard (Rivals) and the top Illinois player in the Class of 2021, is headed to play for Michigan State and legendary head coach Tom Izzo. The Rolling Meadows High School product made his decision Tuesday in an interview with Fox’s Andy Katz.

“It just felt like it was a place that I was needed and a place I wanted to go to,” Christie said. “I think Coach Izzo and his staff and all my teammates there can push me to be the person I want to be, not just on, but off the court.”

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Christie selected Michigan State —his only official visit— over, namely, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. Also on his list of potential choices were Villanova, Virginia, Purdue, Ohio State, Northwestern, Illinois and several others. While Christie is excited for Izzo to help improve his game, he also prides himself on his versatility and making an immediate impact.

“I think I can be a great facilitator and a great scorer,” Christie said. “I feel like I can do anything that Coach Izzo or the players need be to do if that means rebounding, pushing the ball, setting up an offense or coming off screens, I feel like I am versatile enough of anything that is asked of me.”

The 6-foot-6 Christie may get another boost on the court a few years down the line, as Class of 2022 phenom Emoni Bates, the top player in the current junior class, committed to play for MSU on June 30. All of this assumes Bates keeps his commitment to East Lansing and doesn’t hop the NBA. Christie remains steadfast in his committed to Michigan State and is not exploring any G-League options at the moment.

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Christie has grabbed headlines in Chicagoland since his freshman year. He has tallied a 50-point game and a triple double and had several clutch moments during his junior season. He is coming off the first 20-win campaign at ‘Meadows in nearly 30 years.

And there’s more Christie magic in the pipeline. Cameron, his younger brother, is one of the quickly-rising sophomores in the area.

Illinois high school boys basketball state finals return to Champaign

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USA Today

Illinois high school boys basketball state finals return to Champaign

It’s time to party like it’s 1995 —especially if you’re a high school basketball fan who likes watching the game in the Champaign-Urbana area.

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) board of directors voted Monday to move the host venue for the boys state basketball finals from Peoria to Champaign’s renovated State Farm Center for the next three seasons.

“We see this as the passing of the torch from Peoria to Champaign-Urbana,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “It is bittersweet because there is incredible passion from high school basketball within these two communities, and both have done so much to elevate the state final experience as hosts. The State Farm Center is one of the best arenas in the country, and we are excited to crown state champions there once again. The timing simply felt right to make a change as the tournament format shifts in 2021."

The boys tournament will run on March 11-13, 2021, March 10-12, 2022 and March 9-11, 2023.

“We are thrilled with today’s news that the Illinois high school boys basketball state finals will return home to the campus of the University of Illinois, Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “We are grateful to the IHSA and its leadership for choosing State Farm Center and Champaign-Urbana to host the state finals.

The boys tournament, which had been located in Champaign for 77 years, moved to Peoria’s Civic Center (Carver Arena) starting in 1996. The girls tournament was also in Champaign until 1992 before moving to Redbird Arena. The girls tournament will remain in Normal.

The Champaign area was steeped in prep basketball glory for generations. The first televised championship came in 1952 when Hebron, a school of 98 students defeated a Quincy school boasting an enrollment over 1,000. Six years later, the first Chicago school —Marshall— won state. In 1972, the tournament was split into Class A (small schools) and AA (large schools). The late Ben Wilson helped Simeon win in a title in Champaign in 1984 while future NBA stars (Kevin Garnett, Melvin Ely) and NFL receivers (Antwaan Randle El and Tai Streets) graced the floor at Assembly Hall during the 1995 tournament.

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The next year was a perfect one for the city of Peoria to grab the reins for the boys tournament. Hometown Manual High School won their third and fourth consecutive state titles in 1996 and 1997. Later, Derrick Rose guided Simeon to back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007. A four-class system was instituted for the 2007-08 season. Simeon dominated again from 2010-13 with Jabari Parker in the spotlight.

This year’s basketball tournaments were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.