By NICK MEDLINE
Special to ZAGSBLOG
RIVERSIDE, Ill.— Nearly five months after committing to Illinois, Aaron Jordan still gleams about his decision.
The Plainfield (IL) East shooting guard continues to build his game before the AAU season—one that figures to lack any drama.
At the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout last weekend, Jordan validated his No. 79 spot on the latest ESPN rankings. An outstanding shooter with great defensive length, he also seems to play harder than everyone on the floor.
You might think that Jordan would have held offers from several elite schools. That never happened, because Illinois quickly locked up another in-state talent.
“Coach Groce built a relationship and it’s never gonna be broken,” Jordan said.
For the Class of 2015, coach John Groce staked his claim on Illinois recruits, which is exactly what the rabid Illini fanbase needed him to accomplish.
This marks a departure from a quieter Class of 2014 cycle, when he missed Cliff Alexander and only signed Champaign IL (Centennial) power forward Michael Finke.
Williams and Jordan set the ideal standard for Groce as he enters his third season in Champaign. Coaches want to win Chicago. Northwestern landed local small forward Vic Law to great acclaim. Now, Groce picked up the attention by building in his own backyard.
Before a Pittsburgh AAU Tournament last year, assistant coach Dustin Ford told Jordan that Illinois would watch him play. Once a quiet prospect—with limited interest in early 2013—Jordan dominated with the Illinois Celtics (now Illinois Stars) program.
“It was exciting because the home state school was coming to watch me play,” Jordan said. “When I met Coach Groce, he made such a great impression on me. I loved it from the start.”
In-state recruiting is easier said than done. Jordan said he had no geographic preference and made several visits to schools—including main competitor Wisconsin.
But Groce played it exactly right, Jordan said. Groce was committed to his recruitment from the outset, and earned approval from his mother and sister. At the end, Jordan was sold on the idea of sticking around.
“It helps the state, we’ve got talent in Chicago,” Jordan said. “For us to go to Illinois and represent our home state, we play for something. We have Illinois on our jerseys and that’s where we grew up.”
Through Williams and Jordan, Illinois has started to cultivate a sense of state pride—one that they hope to continue.
“This is just the start,” Jordan said. “More guys are going to start staying home with Coach Groce and the program that he’s building up. It’s a great future for us.”