Ten Names You'll Learn In 2017
The dilemma - I leave for a trip in the morning, and I have a choice between writing about the Ohio State win or writing my yearly "Ten Names You'll Learn" column. Ten names it is. I'll sum up the Ohio State game in one sentence: how did Malcolm inbound the ball and get all the way to the rim with 5 seconds on the shot clock? Great play.
1. Jaylen Dunlap - One of the best players on an otherwise underwhelming defense. Look for a big senior year in 2017.
2. Nick Hardy - Was one of the key underclassmen on a golf team that reached the national semifinals. But as the year wore on, he was outshined by his classmate Dylan Meyer.
3. Jeremiah Tilmon - I wrote that "Groce pretty much has to land Tilmon." He did.
4. CeCe Rice - The player I chose as the breakout star of the women's basketball team missed the final 20 games of last season with a knee injury. And now she's only played 3 games this year with a foot injury.
5. Dominic Thieman - The freshman wideout was in the midst of his breakout game - four catches in the first half against Minnesota - when he broke his ankle and missed the rest of the season.
6. "The New Athletic Director" - Yes, that's a name we learned in 2016. It was kind of a big deal.
7. Jordyn Poulter - I wrote that it would be a breakout season for the setter on the volleyball team and her teammates. That didn't quite happen as the Illini missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in forever.
8. Kevin Jarvis - He was my pick for the player that Head Coach Bill Cubit had to land if he wanted to prove he could recruit at a high level at Illinois. Cubit didn't land him and neither did Lovie - Jarvis is committed to Michigan State.
9. Kipper Nichols - I usually pick someone from the current basketball recruiting class and for this year, with only two players, I picked Kipper. He became eligible for the BYU game a few weeks ago and... hasn't played much.
10. Tre Watson - I feel pretty good about this pick. Watson burst onto the scene at linebacker and cleared 100 tackles on the season. Even made Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after 16 tackles in the Michigan State win.
OK, on to this year. You probably know some of these names already, but if you don't, here are the ten names you'll learn in 2017.
1. Ricky Smalling
I've written many words over the last few years about Bill Cubit's wide receiver recruiting. From the moment he took over as offensive coordinator, we mostly recruited tall, lanky, long-stride-y receivers (one of which just led the Packers in receiving tonight). With the McGee offense, we're looking more for the quick, dart-y receivers. And that's what Ricky Smalling will provide.
So while next season will be all about Malik Turner and the return of Mikey Dudek, I think you'll learn the name of incoming freshman wide receiver Ricky Smalling. If Geronimo Allison was the exact receiver Bill Cubit was looking for to run his offense, Ricky Smalling is that guy for Garrick McGee's offense. I think he's in the receiver rotation from the first snap of the season.
2. DJ Williams
OK, yes, you all know his name. The basketball roster is 13 names and it's nearly impossible to pick a name you don't "know". But I'm putting DJ on this list because he's my leap candidate. This year, yes, you know who he is. Next year, might he be one of the most important players on the team?
With Abrams and Tate graduating, point guard will have to be some combination of Te'Jon Lucas and Trent Frazier. With Morgan and Thorne graduating, the low post will be a rotation of Michael Finke, Leron Black, and Jeremiah Tilmon. With Malcolm Hill graduating, the impossible task of replacing him will fall to... DJ Williams.
3. Tyra Perry
The softball team qualified for the NCAA Tournament under first-year coach Tyra Perry last year. And they return 16 players from that team including more than 80% of their regular starters. Illinois has never been known as a big softball school, but you might learn Perry's name this spring if she can lead an experienced team back to the NCAA Tournament where they might just make some noise. Looking over the stats, it appears the softball team returns seven of their top nine hitters plus their ace. Fill those holes and Perry should have a very solid team in her second season.
4. Quincy Patterson
Each year for this list I choose an in-state recruit who is high up on the MUST GET list. First it was Dre Brown, then Kentrail Moran, and then Kevin Jarvis. This year - Chicago Solario Academy quarterback Quincy Patterson. I don't want to say the phrase "Juice II" because it wouldn't be my phrase - I've seen it all over Twitter. But let's be honest. When Zook was installing the Locksley offense, he went out and found the perfect QB to run it in Juice Williams. That guy for Garrick McGee is Quincy Patterson. MUST GET.
5. Rich Harvest Farms Golf Course
No, it's not a player, but it's a name you'll learn this spring. That's because the NCAA Golf National Championships will be held in the state of Illinois this year. Last year, they were played in Oregon where they were won by... Oregon. This year they will be held in Illinois where they will be won by... hmmmm.... who are the top teams in golf this year.... hey, right here it says that the number two team in the country is Illinois......
6. Trent Frazier
No seniors next year. Five seniors graduate, and with no juniors on the roster this year, next year will be mostly juniors and freshmen. Which means a few of the freshmen will have to step in and play immediately. Jeremiah Tilmon will be one of those guys - he takes over in the paint. At point guard it will be Te'Jon Lucas or...
Trent Frazier. The more he scores this high school season the more I think that he might be that scoring point guard we've been waiting for. It's a lot to ask of a freshman, but with the position wide open, Frazier will be given every opportunity to take the ball and run with it. Go kid go.
7. Griffin Palmer
Every year I try to pick someone on the football roster who is unknown on Day 1 but a household name on Day 365. The first year I picked FEJ!, in 2015 I picked Malik Turner, and last year I chose Tre Watson. This year I'm going with redshirt freshman tight end Griffin Palmer.
Three tight ends graduated - Tyler White, Andrew Davis, and Ainslie Johnson - which means we have to immediately find three more. Palmer - winner of one of the Scout Team Player of the Year awards - will likely be the guy who gets 60 snaps in the opener during his redshirt freshman year. Hope you're ready, kid.
8. Jackie Quade
I think it's fair to say that Illini football is to Illini basketball as Illini women's basketball is to Illini volleyball. As in, we've never had much of a women's basketball program, but volleyball has been consistently good for decades. This past year, doomed by an early four-game losing streak and then a conference seven-game losing streak, Illini volleyball missed the NCAA Tournament. And, similar to Illini football, it did so with more than half the rotation being seniors.
Next season will be a full-on youth movement for Kevin Hambly as he has only one senior (Brandi Donnelly). So it will be a team led by the juniors (Jordyn Poulter, Ali Bastianelli) and a sophomore (Jackie Quade). As a freshman, Quade was second on the team in kills (only 14 behind team-leader Michelle Strizak), so she's likely the go-to spiker-of-the-ball for the next three seasons. That's right, spiker-of-the-ball.
9. Tim Finke
Brother if Michael. Son of Jeff. Receiver of offers from other schools like Ohio State. As of right now, there are no scholarships available for the 2018 class (although two remain open and unused for the 2017 class at the moment), so it might only be a class of one player. And the main target for that one scholarship - Michael Finke's little brother.
10. Nick Allegretti
In all likelihood, you know this name well. He started all season at guard and will be a leader (the leader?) of the offensive line the next two seasons. He's vitally important to the rebuild of this offense. Perhaps the key cog on the offensive line.
But he's also going to be heavily involved in other activities. I'm guessing he'll be the guy taking Joe Spencer's spot in leading the Lift For Life event. Which means I'm guessing he'll be the guy taking Joe Spencer's spot as "guy on the football program who does so, so much public service".