Four-star big man Austin Colbert from Gladstone (NJ) Gill St Bernards School rounded out John Groce's first recruiting class at Illinois when he committed to the Fighting Illini last November.
Now Colbert, a 6-foot-9 power forward , is preparing to make the move to Champaign to begin his college career. It's a major step in Colbert's life and playing career.
Colbert said he will be on campus June 4th.
"It's coming up in 9 days, and I'm trying to get ready," Colbert said. "I'm taking summer classes and working out and trying to get a feel for the whole college experience.
"It's very surreal. I can't believe I'm getting ready to go to college soon. It's truly a blessing. I'm very excited to get down there and work hard and show everybody I mean business. But it's little bit nerve racking as well."
Colbert joins four other incoming freshmen - Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, and Jaylon Tate - in a class ranked No. 18 nationally. He checked in at No. 97 overall in final Rivals.com rankings for 2013.
Long and athletic, Colbert only needs to add strength and refine his game some to compete for minutes in upcoming season at Illinois. There are certainly opportunities for Colbert at the 4 spot, with the graduation of Tyler Griffey and abrupt departure of junior Myke Henry, who elected to transfer.
Fifth year transfer Jon Ekey will be in the mix, but the power forward spot is far from settled. It's an opening that Colbert intends to make the most of.
"I'm going to go in with a chip on my shoulder because I want that starting position," Colbert said. "The coaches are telling me to be ready to grind, ready to work. There's a good chance for me to come in and earn some minutes. I'm going to prove myself every day on and off the court and show how bad I really want it."
The raw ability is there. Colbert was once considered a top 25 recruit in his class nationally. Adding strength is a key for Colbert at this point - he currently checks in a lean 205 pounds. The Illinois staff has been proactive in helping Colbert get ready for the rugged play in the Big Ten. The goal is to add 10-15 pounds before the 2013-14 season tips off.
According to Colbert, he sticks to his lifting schedule and he added some new wrinkles to his game over the last year.
"(The Illini staff) gave me a workout schedule and I've been following it routinely and just trying to get stronger," Colbert said. "And I have improved on a little bit of everything. I think I've become a little better jump shooter, and a better motor. My basketball IQ and athleticism have both gotten a little bit better."
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A new chapter
Colbert and his family have an idea what being away from home is all about. Colbert spent junior season at the Hotchkiss School, a prep school in Lakeville (Conn.).
But the next stop, Champaign-Urbana, is 800 miles west. Colbert says is family is happy for him, but it's going to be an adjustment nonetheless.
"They are really excited and proud," Colbert said. "They kind of got a taste for it my junior year when I went to Hotchkiss. So they got a feel for what it is like for me to be away from them. They are a little sad, but they are proud and can't wait."
Helping make the transition will be Colbert teammates on the Illini squad. He already has a relationship with most of the players, especially his incoming classmates.
"I've gotten to know pretty much everybody except for a few of the transfers," Colbert said. "I definitely got to know all of the freshmen. I'm looking to make a bigger bond when I get on campus so the chemistry is there on the court. "
Colbert chose Illinois from a final list that included Miami (Fla.), Seton Hall, and Villanova. When he committed, Colbert sighted a good fit in Groce's system and the "family atmosphere" of the program as reasons for this choice. Academics also played a key role.
The strong reputation of the College of Business at Illinois was a major draw for Colbert, who intends to major in marketing or finance.
"It's a great school, and phenomenal academic school," Colbert said. "It's one of the top public schools in the country. So I will have good connections coming out of college trying to find a job. It's also so warm and welcoming, kind of like a family. The minute I stepped on campus I loved it there."