It is always easy to get caught up in the recruitment of a bonafide recruit like Bryce Hopkins from the perspective of the team you follow, but you can really get a holistic view of the recruitment by reading articles and listening to podcasts from sources of the other schools that are also heavily involved in the recruitment.
247 Illinois writers Jeremy Werner & Derek Piper recorded a fantastic podcast on where the Fightin’ Illini stand with in-state 4 star recruit Bryce Hopkins (linked here). It was really interesting to hear their take on where Illinois stands with Hopkins.
Some notable talking points from the podcast below, with commentary from the Providence side of things:
1. Some similarities with Providence in recruiting “struggles” – Recruits choosing other programs with Illinois often coming in 2nd or 3rd place
Takeaway: See, it’s not just Providence who misses on recruits! I say that tongue-in-cheek, but it just shows how fickle recruiting is. Even a premiere basketball school like Illinois can have their recruiting “struggles”. 247 shows them as having the 17th ranked class nationally last year, so it is tough to feel TOO bad for them.
The point stands that winning becomes much easier when you are landing those Top 50, Top 100 type recruits.
2. Mac Etienne is a huge priority for Illinois
Takeaway: Providence has never been closely associated with Etienne, and I have always been a bit perplexed as to why that is the case. The new NCAA eligibility ruling aside, Providence has a massive need for big men. Even if Watson and Horchler decide to come back next year (which isn’t a given, for what it is worth), Etienne is too much of a talent to sit as a freshman at any school, and he would presumably start as a sophomore at Providence.
Illinois is in a bit of a different situation, as Kofi Cockburn is likely leaving after this season regardless of that NCAA ruling. He’ll pursue a professional career and will presumably become a first rounder in the NBA draft when he decides to declare. It was a huge win for the Illinois program to have Cockburn return after his extremely promising freshman year.
Beyond playing time, Etienne goes to school in New England. There must have been some type of indication that has prevented the Friars from getting much traction with the 4 star big man. Landing Hopkins may alter his interest in Providence, as the two are reportedly friendly.
3. Werner & Piper identify Providence as a threat due to Hopkin’s mother being from the area. Also, Piper identifies Cooley as a good coach, strong recruiter, and hands-on with the recruitment of Hopkins. There was a short anecdote about Hopkins not picking Illinois initially due to Illinois head coach Brad Underwood not being heavily involved, which has since changed.
Takeaway: Everybody that closely follows the Friar program knows that Cooley can recruit. To win these type of battles with elite recruits, Cooley needs to pull out all the stops to get Hopkins comfortable leaving home and committing to a school like Providence. He has clearly done this in the recruitment of Hopkins.
It is refreshing to see other folks covering other schools identify the talent and ability of Ed Cooley. Providence has a good one, folks.
4. Illinois surging of late in recruitment of Hopkins
Takeaway: I think this is an extremely fair assessment. After the Louisville decommitment, the Illinois staff likely realized they had another swing of the bat and have made the most of this second opportunity. It is always tough for a recruit to turn down an in-state program, especially one that is lining up to have a historic year. If Illinois has the season most expect, momentum should continue on the recruiting front. Regardless of what preseason rankings you look at, Illinois is squarely in the Top 10.
It is much easier to commit to a school when they have a recent history of winning and have landed other top tier recruits.
5. Questioning of Kentucky’s willingness to accept Hopkins as a commitment
Takeaway: We’ve heard this a few times on the Providence front. Think whatever you may want to about Calipari, but he is a closer on the recruiting trail. When Kentucky pushes hard for a recruit, the Wildcats normally land said recruit.
The dragging out of this recruitment makes me think Kentucky may not be ready to accept his commitment, which could be a win for Illinois, Indiana, or Providence.
6. Assessment of Bryce’s game – The body of a forward with skill set of a guard. He rebounds like a forward while possessing many of the ideal traits of the modern combo forward.
Takeaway: I couldn’t agree more with this assessment of Hopkins. He is one of those chess pieces that doesn’t have a defined position. Roll him out on the court and let him bully a 3 guarding him or put a 4 on him and watch him exploit that match-up on the perimeter. You have to think Cooley is positioning him as the next Diallo, Bentil, or Henton.
Conclusion: Again, I recommend any of the folks following this recruitment to take a listen to this podcast. It was a really entertaining listen and gave me some more perspective on the Hopkins recruitment.
At the end of the day, I think he still commits to Kentucky, but all 4 schools seem to believe they are very much in this. We’ll see what happens in the coming days…