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The Crane jewel (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday September 13, 2005 4:06PM; Updated: Tuesday September 13, 2005 6:25PM
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When Wright committed to Self during a home visit a year ago this month -- in what has become an oft-retold story in the recruiting world -- the prep star did so without ever having visited Kansas. Collins, conversely, appears to be in no rush to make a decision. He says there "isn't pressure," per se, to stay in-state with the Illini, but "a lot of people talk to me -- and most people want me go [to Illinois]." Collins already has relationships with Illini players Luther Head -- the two worked out together in Chicago before the draft -- and Brown, to whom the Crane guard is often compared. "Dee gives me advice on a lot of stuff," Collins said. "He told me how to handle the recruiting process and keep it calm."

Longstreet, whom Collins has appointed as his buffer to both college suitors and the press, says their main focus is on making sure Collins meets the NCAA's academic qualifying standards. Toward that end, he played a limited schedule this summer, rather than weighing scholarship offers. "He isn't aware of the magnitude of the political ramifications [of picking, or not picking, Illinois]," Longstreet said. "He's kind of oblivious to it."

In the meantime, the Illini will be grooming freshman Chester Frazier, one of the three-star commitments of '05, to take over the point after Brown graduates. The Orange is also courting Derrick Rose, a class of '07 PG from Chicago's Simeon High who is considered a Collins-level prospect. Telep says Weber is in an enviable position -- he needs a point guard, and two of the top prep points in the next two years are located in his backyard. "If I'm Weber, it's my job to get one of those two guys," Telep said. "If they go 2-for-2, they've struck gold; if they go 1-for-2, they're in business." Weber will attempt to land both players, no doubt using his dual-PG formula of '04-05 as the No. 1 selling point. But there will be a national dogfight for Rose as well, with the tireless Self once again in the mix. And, as Telep says, "if Weber goes 0-fer, that's the nightmare scenario."

Illinois will not fall off the national map if it does not secure Collins' services, nor will Weber be run out of town. The situation is not that grave. Weber is, after all, a state hero after taking the school to its first Final Four since 1989 and its first-ever title game. But Collins is perceived as an even greater prospect than Dee Brown and Deron Williams were in '02, and in order to seamlessly transition from one era of elite backcourts to another, Weber needs Collins in an Illini jersey. And he definitely needs him more than Self does.

Weber has proven his mettle as a coach, taking an Illinois team built by Self and molding it into a near-national champion. But if you think recruiting doesn't matter -- that Weber can transform any old prep guards into superstars -- one look at the high school rankings from '02 suggests otherwise:

Top point guard recruits of 2002, according to Scout.com:
1. Raymond Felton, Latta, S.C. College: North Carolina.
2. Dee Brown, Maywood, Ill. College: Illinois.

Considering the point at which Felton and Brown finally intersected in '05 -- on a Monday night in April -- the potential parallel to '06 is too compelling to ignore:

Top point guard recruits of 2006, according to Scout.com:
1. Tywon Lawson, Mouth of Wilson, Va. College: North Carolina.
2. Sherron Collins, Chicago. College: Undecided.

Luke Winn covers college sports for SI.com.