The Cliff-down has begun. The Fighting Illini are set to host 2014 big man Cliff Alexander for an official visit this weekend. How big of a visit is this for the Illinoi program? It just may be the most important visit in Illini basketball history, and that's saying a lot.
Old-school fans will point to Audie Matthews (1974), Levi Cobb (1976) Eddie Johnson (1978), Nick Anderson (1986), and Marcus Liberty (1987), among others.
Liberty was the most highly regarded of that group, ranked by most services as the No. 1 player in the nation coming out of Chicago King High School. Matthews, from Chicago Heights Bloom, was recruited by Gene Bartow and recruiter Tony Yates. His signing helped Illinois get back into the Chicago market. Yates stayed on to join Lou Henson's staff, and aided Henson in nabbing Cobb out of Morgan Park.
But those were the old days, before the internet and AAU basketball put college basketball recruiting at the forefront. Only the most dedicated recruiting junkies followed closely, getting their fix from a handful of gurus and the local newspapers.
Nothing tops the Alexander visit for shear hype; not even Derrick Rose surprisingly stopping in at the Orange and Blue Scrimmage in 2006 after leaving Illinois out of his top five.
Fast forward to Oct. 26, 2013. "Big Cliff" will make the trip to Champaign with most analysts projecting it as a two horse race between Illinois and Kansas. Yep, Kansas - and former Illinois head coach Bill Self. Illinois coaches have battled Self for recruits before, most notably guard Sherron Collins and forwards Brandon Rush and Julian Wright. But this is the big fish - the program changer.
Alexander, a 6-foot-9 power forward from Chicago Curie, ranks No. 4 nationally in the class of 2014. He is widely believed to be one-and-done at the next level. While Illinois coach John Groce already has a strong class assembled - guard Quentin Snider and forwards Leron Black and Michael Finke - Alexander could be the missing piece in a Final Four-type roster.
Expect Groce and his staff to roll out the red carpet for Alexander. One of the stops on the visit will be the Illini football game vs. Michigan State, and Alexander shoud get a warm welcome from the fans, especially the student section.
Having trimmed his list earlier this month to Illinois, Kansas, Michigan State, DePaul, and Memphis, Alexander plans to announce his decision on ESPN November 16th. Until then, it will be tough for Illini hoops fans to focus their attention on anything else.
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue News throughout the week for in-depth coverage of the Cliff Alexander visit.
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