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Monday / February 20.

Illinois, John Groce working hard in race for Jalen Brunson

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13JalenBrunsonBY JEREMY WOO

The Illinois program has caught some flack in recent years for its inability to keep elite prospects in-state. Exhibits A, B, and C: Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander.

But make no mistake—they’re certainly putting in the effort. Their latest plans begin and end with point guard Jalen Brunson, arguably the top floor general in the junior class nationally.

Illinois head coach John Groce and assistant Jamall Walker were in attendance over the weekend as piloted his Stevenson squad to a non-conference win over Chicago Simeon and 2015 Illinois verbal D.J. Williams. The 6-foot-1 Brunson had 20 points in the win after scoring a career-high 54 in a double-overtime victory the night before.

The Illinois staff has become a regular fixture at Stevenson games of late. The Illini fell out of favor with the Brunson camp by temporarily receiving a verbal from 2014 point guard Quentin Snider, now committed to Louisville.

They’re undoubtedly back in the mix.

“I feel like Illinois is a really good program,” said Brunson after Saturday’s game. “They’re up and coming. But I haven’t really knocked down any schools on my list. Right know I think about them the same as any other school—they have a really good chance of me going there.”

“Right now I’m really just focused on winning one game at a time,” he added. Brunson said he would wait until after the summer AAU circuit to narrow down his suitors. His lengthy list includes Michigan, Michigan State, Villanova and Ohio State, among others. Brunson spent last summer starring for the Mac Irvin Fire.

“My son is going to play for a coach, not a university,” Jalen’s father Rick Brunson, a former nine-year NBA point guard told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this month. The elder Brunson starred collegiately at Temple. “You go to play for a coach, you adjust to the university. So there needs to be trust.”

It appears Groce and staff are making headway on that front. With point guard a major position of need for the Illini, who never offered 2014 in-state star and Kentucky commit Tyler Ulis, the time to strike is now.


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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.