Illini-less NCAA Tournament still features Illinois-bred stars
Jevon Carter earned second-team All-America honors this week, yet another accolade for a point guard called "one of the best to ever hit the hardwood" for West Virginia University.
A native of west suburban Maywood, Carter played high school basketball at Proviso East before heading to Morgantown, where he would win national awards and set school records while leading the Mountaineers to four NCAA Tournament berths and three Sweet Sixteens.
Also over Carter's stellar four-year career: the University of Illinois didn't make a single NCAA tournament.
That's noteworthy, as Illinois' flagship program wasn't remotely interested in Carter out of high school and didn't even recruit him, much less offer a scholarship.
Carter eventually chose West Virginia over offers from Loyola, Illinois State, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Mercer, Toledo, La Salle, Akron, Indiana State, Valparaiso, Lehigh and Kent State.
The Illini haven't made the NCAAs at all since 2013 and haven't made the Sweet Sixteen since 2005.
All the while they have passed on many Illinois high school basketball stars who went on earn legendary status elsewhere. This year has been no exception.
Five Illinois natives will star in Saturday's Final Four, including Jalen Brunson of north suburban Lincolnshire (Stevenson H.S.), the leader of top-seeded Villanova and first team All-American, called "arguably the nation's best all-around player."
University of Illinois offered scholarships to only two of them.
Vermont and Alabama-Birmingham
Brunson and 6'6 University of Michigan star Charles Matthews (Chicago St. Rita), who will square off with Loyola in a national semifinal Saturday, had their pick of elite college suitors and turned down the Illini.
Loyola's 6'9 freshman center Cameron Krutwig of northwest suburban Algonquin (Jacobs H.S.) who averaged 10 points and six rebounds per game in his first college season, had his pick of suitors, too.
The University of Vermont and Alabama-Birmingham were Krutwig's first two scholarship offers, followed by Loyola and a host of others, including Toledo, Northern Illinois, Furman, Ball State, University of California-Davis, Bowling Green and Duquesne.
Krutwig's freshman teammate Lucas Williamson (Chicago Whitney Young), who made two key three-pointers in the Ramblers' second round nail-biter over Tennessee, picked Loyola over Hampton, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Toledo, Northern Illinois, Bucknell and Hofstra.
Senior forward and stand-out Donte Ingram (Chicago Simeon), who hit the game-winning shot in Loyola's first round upset win over Miami (Fl.), picked the Ramblers over North Dakota, University of Missouri at Kansas City, Hampton and Missouri State.
The I-74 Corridor
Ingram grew up in Danville, thirty minutes from Champaign, and played his first two years of high school basketball at Danville H.S. before moving to Chicago.
University of Nevada star forward Jordan Caroline, who squared off against Ingram the Sweet Sixteen, grew up in Champaign. He's the son of former Illinois and NFL football star Simeon Rice and the grandson of J.C. Caroline, a former Illini running back who is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Caroline, who played at Champaign Central H.S., originally chose Southern Illinois over Mount St. Mary's, Robert Morris, Radford, Denver and North Carolina-Asheville. He announced he would transfer after his freshman year, picking Nevada over Cincinnati, Xavier and Minnesota.
Illinois "was my dream school," Caroline told the Chicago Tribune. "I really wanted to go there."
Caroline averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per game for the Wolfpack, who won 29 games this season.
Keita Bates-Diop started four years for Normal's University H.S., 56 miles west of Champaign on Interstate 74.
After a promising freshman year, Purdue, Northwestern and DePaul offered scholarships. It didn't hurt that Bates-Diop had grown to 6'7 and had a Division I pedigree; his State Farm executive father, Richard (also 6'7), was a two-year starter at forward for Creighton University in the early 1980s.
Two years later, Illinois and everyone else had offered, too.
Bates-Diop would pick Ohio State, recruited by its coach, Thad Matta, a native of nearby Hoopeston, just north of Danville in Vermilion County.
He led the Big Ten in scoring this season, earned second-team All-American honors along with Javon Carter and is expected to be a first round NBA draft pick.
Like Caroline and Bates-Diop, athletics are a family tradition for Admiral Schofield.
The son of a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy, Admiral has an older brother, O'Brien, who starred at defensive end for the University of Wisconsin before playing six years in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, even winning a Super Bowl. And two of his cousins are former NFL defensive end Vonnie Holliday and Bears receiver Bobby Engram.
Despite this, and earning second-team All-State honors in his senior year at Zion-Benton H.S. in northern Lake County, Schofield attracted just one major scholarship offer: University of Tennessee.
The 6'4 forward picked the Volunteers over UW-Milwaukee, UW-Green Bay, Niagara, LIU-Brooklyn, Quinnipiac, Western Kentucky, Fairfield, North Dakota, Ohio University and Toledo, to name a few.
Schofield averaged 14 points and six rebounds this season, earning second-team All-SEC honors while leading Tennessee to the regular season conference championship and their fourth-most wins in program history (26).
He led the Volunteers in scoring during their first round NCAA win over Wright State, a school from Dayton, OH whose two leading scorers are from Kane County.
Once an aspiring left tackle, the Raiders' star 6'9 redshirt freshman center Loudon Love missed his senior year of basketball at Geneva H.S. due to a football injury. He averaged 13 points and ten rebounds, teaming with guard Cole Gentry (St. Charles East) to lead Wright State to a Horizon League championship.
Love picked Wright State over Northern Illinois, Western Illinois, South Dakota State, Northern Kentucky and University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC). Gentry had offers from UMBC and Furman.
Another Kane County export, 6'7 forward Roland Griffin of West Aurora H.S., made the NCAA tournament by way of Iona College in suburban New York City.
Griffin scored 29 points in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament Championship to help the Gaels earn their bid, then 21 points in their first round loss to second-seeded Duke.
Illinois State, George Washington and Northern Illinois offered scholarships to Griffin out of West Aurora.
Illinoisans standing out in the NCAAs
The University of Illinois missed the NCAA tournament this year-- but Illinois-bred basketball stars are still playing a central role in March Madness
|Cameron Krutwig||Loyola- Chicago||Algonquin||Jacobs|
|Roland Griffin||Iona||Aurora||West Aurora|
|Jordan Caroline||Nevada||Champaign||Champaign Central|
|Donte Ingram||Loyola- Chicago||Chicago||Simeon|
|Lucas Williamson||Loyola- Chicago||Chicago||Whitney Young|
|Charles Matthews||Michigan||Chicago||St Rita.|
|Zach Norvell, Jr.||Gonzaga||Chicago||Simeon|
|Thomas Hamilton, IV||Texas Tech||Chicago||Whitney Young|
|Tevin King||South Dakota St.||Chicago||Providence-St. Mel|
|Gavin Schilling||Michigan State||Chicago||De LaSalle|
|Max Rothschild||Penn||Chicago||U of Chicago Lab|
|Jeremiah Tilmon||Mizzou||East St. Louis||East St. Louis|
|Loudon Love||Wright State||Geneva||Geneva|
|Sean O'Mara||Xavier||Glen Ellyn||Benet Academy|
|Jamuni McNeace||Oklahoma||Kankakee||Allen (TX)|
|Jevon Carter||West Virginia||Maywood||Proviso East|
|Keita Bates-Diop||Ohio State||Normal||Normal University|
|Kendall Stephens||Nevada||St. Charles||St. Charles East|
|Cole Gentry||Wright State||St. Charles||St. Charles East|