Chicago’s high school and AAU coaches have a reputation for valuing relationships above all else when it comes to college recruiting, and new Illinois coach Brad Underwood made a big hiccup in that regard this week. Underwood pulled a scholarship offer from four-star recruit Talen Horton-Tucker, alienating Simeon Career Academy, a storied program that has supplied several Illinois recruits over the years, in the process.
As the Chicago Sun-Times’ Michael O’Brien detailed, this whole issue was the result of some AAU beef. Horton-Tucker, the No. 2 recruit in Illinois, used to play AAU ball for Mac Irvin Fire with the Ayo Dosunmu, the state’s No. 1 prospect who committed to Illinois last week. Horton-Tucker left Mac Irvin Fire for Team Rose in the spring.
Despite his previous issues with Dosunmu, Horton-Tucker still wanted to commit to Illinois on Thursday just a few minutes before making his announcement, according to O’Brien. But Illinois pulled his scholarship offer because Dosunmu’s camp gave Underwood an ultimatum:
The Dosunmu camp apparently never reached a point where they felt like they were comfortable playing with Horton-Tucker again, so the Illinois staff was forced to choose. They stuck with Dosunmu.
Illinois tried to get both players. It’s hard to blame the staff for that. When you have a chance at the two best players in the state and the Public League, you need to do everything possible to make it happen. But they should have realized before Thursday, ideally before Horton-Tucker’s official visit, that it wouldn’t sit well with Dosunmu.
So Horton-Tucker will play his college ball at Iowa State instead, and Underwood may not sign another Simeon recruit for a long time.
Simeon has produced talents such as Jabari Parker and Derrick Rose, along with four players who have received all-conference honors over the last two years. Some of the best players in Illinois history, such as Deon Thomas and Nick Anderson, and some of the more memorable players from recent history, like Kendrick Nunn and Calvin Brock, came out of Simeon. The program has been a consistent supplier for Illinois, and that relationship, at least for the time being, appears to be severed.
When Oliver Purnell, a Maryland native who’d spent most of his coaching career in the Mid-Atlantic region, got the DePaul job in 2010, here’s what Mike Irvin, the program director of Mac Irvin Fire, told ESPN about the importance of relationships in recruiting Chicago:
“I’ve been CEO of the Fire for the past five years,” said Mike Irvin, whose AAU team possesses a good portion of the area’s top talent. “I’ve been at my father’s side for the last 15 years assisting him with the team. I’ve never seen him. I’ve never seen a Clemson coach. That’s bad, because in Chicago it’s about the relationships, the ties. Chicago’s a different animal, a different city.”
Irvin was just one of many local coaches who questioned Purnell’s Chicago ties. And Purnell’s track record shows it wasn’t just talk. He didn’t get a commitment from a Chicago player until the Class of 2013. In a five-year tenure where he posted a 54-105 record, he signed only two Chicago players out of high school.
Underwood isn’t exactly an outsider. He’s a Midwestern guy who spent over a decade as an assistant coach at Western Illinois. But he didn’t recruit the Chicago area in four years at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State. The fact that the state’s top two players wanted to commit to Illinois within months of him getting the job is already a great sign for the program’s future.
But by factors mostly out of his control, Underwood was placed in a no-win situation. Choose Dosunmu, and you alienate Simeon. Choose Horton-Tucker, and you piss off Mac Irvin Fire and Morgan Park, a high school program that has produced its own share of top talent in recent years. Most likely, Underwood had Adam Miller, a five-star sophomore at Morgan Park, on his mind to some degree when he made this decision. Miller already holds offers from Illinois, Kansas, Wake Forest and others, according to 247Sports.
Even without bribery and the FBI, college basketball recruiting can get nasty.