Illinois could be in duel with Kansas for Chicago star
Posted: Tuesday September 13, 2005 4:06PM; Updated: Tuesday September 13, 2005 6:25PM
Sherron Collins could be the heir-apparent to Dee Brown at Illinois, but will he commit to the Illini, the Jayhawks, or someone else?
Class of 2006's Top PGs
(as ranked by Scout.com)
Tywon Lawson Oak Hill Academy Mouth Of Wilson, Va.
Sherron Collins Crane Tech Chicago, Ill.
Javaris Crittenton SW Atlanta Christian Atlanta, Ga.
Mike Conley Lawrence North Indianapolis, Ind.
Scott Reynolds Herndon Herndon, Va.
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The meeting of Chicago's Crane Tech and Marshall high schools in a prep football game on the city's West side would not normally warrant mention in the national sporting press. But at this particular contest, standing behind one end zone, was Illinois coach Bruce Weber, clad in vivid U-of-I orange and flanked by a hunting party of two assistants. Sitting in the stands were Kansas' Bill Self and Iowa's Steve Alford. These esteemed coaches were all focused on the same prey -- a 5-foot-11 Crane receiver -- and neither of them was watching him on behalf of their university's football program.
The wideout's name is Sherron Collins, and while he's a notable athlete on grass, he's a prodigious talent on a basketball court. Along with Oak Hill Academy's Tywon Lawson, who has already committed to North Carolina, Collins is one of the top two point guards in the class of 2006, the kind of floor general coaches covet because of their ability to lead a program to title games.
Last Friday was the first day NCAA coaches were permitted to contact recruits and it was open season on Collins. Self upped the ante by first convincing the young guard to attend KU's Late Night In The Phog on Oct. 14, rather than Illinois' Midnight Madness event. He later gave a pitch during his in-home visit that centered heavily on the rich tradition of basketball at Allen Fieldhouse, a message that Crane basketball coach Anthony Longstreet said resonated with the recruit. "I think Sherron was impressed," he said. "I'm near 50 years old and I was impressed. [Sherron] just said to me, 'I didn't know they had that much history.'"
The Crane coach added that Self thinks "Sherron is the missing piece to Kansas making the Final Four." And Collins said Self told him the Jayhawks "want a point guard like me to run the show."
Iowa was one of Collins' earliest suitors, but the real clash for the Crane jewel is likely to pit Illinois against Kansas, with the stakes infinitely higher in the Illini's camp. Weber stirred the Land of Lincoln into an orange frenzy in 2004-05 by coaching Illinois to a near-perfect regular season record and leading the Illini to the NCAA championship game. The Illini faithful are now looking to the recruiting trail for affirmations of their program's status among the national elite.
The recruiting class of '05 -- Weber's second at U of I -- was hardly remarkable, as it was comprised of a trio of three-star prospects and nary a player from the top 20 in Illinois (as ranked by Scout.com). Jon Scheyer, the state's third-ranked player in the class of '06, plays for Weber's brother, Dave, at Glenbrook North High, but sent the Illini reeling when he announced this offseason he was headed for Duke. Illinois has four-star center Brian Carlwell as a headliner for its class of '06 and stud shooter Eric Gordon is leaning the Orange's way in '07, but at a school that built its recent reputation on point-guard play -- the architectural firm of Dee Brown, Deron Williams and (Frank) Williams -- it will take the commitment of a premier point such as Collins to truly assuage the doubts of Weber's recruiting abilities.
Weber, according to Longstreet, "wants Sherron to come right in and take over where Dee Brown left off." The Illinois coach's guard-development portfolio is almost unparalleled: he led a three-headed backcourt to 37 wins and ushered two-thirds of that trio into the first round of the '05 NBA Draft. If, despite those credentials, Weber is unable to lure the next wave of backcourt stars to Champaign, it will be lamented as a critical opportunity lost. Even more devastating would be to lose Collins to Kansas -- and more specifically, Self, the coach who used Illinois as a stepping stone to Lawrence just two years earlier.
The Illini nation's relationship with Self has taken an almost Shakespearian swing. Initially when the charming coach left Tulsa to work his magic in the Big Ten, he was beloved; when he departed for KU in '03, there were outraged cries of betrayal. Now there is a residual grudge and, more important, paranoia that Self is pillaging all of Illinois' most prominent recruits. The paranoia is hardly unfounded; Self stole prime Illini target Julian Wright, a Chicago prospect, during the fall recruiting period in '04; he beat out Weber for late signee Brandon Rush in August and is now hot on the trail of Collins. The stakes are lower for the Jayhawks because Self has stockpiled an arsenal of young talent. KU has point guards Russell Robinson (a sophomore) and Mario Chalmers (the nation's No. 1 player at that position in the prep class of '05) on its roster, but would gladly make space for Collins because, as Scout.com analyst Dave Telep puts it, Collins "is not the kind of player who has to wait behind anyone."
Regarding the crowded-backcourt situation in Lawrence, Longstreet said, "From my understanding, [Self] has talked to Chalmers, and Chalmers doesn't have any problem being the recipient of Sherron's drives to the basket and dish-offs."