Official Visitors are off-limits to the media, so I didn’t have a chance to ask Elijah or Jalen about their visits, or even say hello to their families. (The NCAA is a very, very silly organization.)
As usual, the only major public appearance was a football game. In this case, a lousy first quarter of a football game, in a slightly sweltering late summer sun.
By kickoff, the Elijah Thomas Official Visit was more than halfway over. The Jalen Coleman Official Visit was just beginning. Another NCAA rule confines these visits to 48 hours, and Thomas’s visit was Friday-Saturday, while Coleman’s was Saturday-Sunday.
Thus, the Illini coaching staff was forced by circumstance to vary from standard operating procedure. Jamall Walker took over with the Thomas family, while John Groce greeted the Colemans.
They all came together in the grandstands, and Groce sat between the two families. But by that point, the focus was mostly on the Colemans. Except for Darius Coleman, who was not with the Colemans. Weird.
The families and coaches barely had time to get acquainted before an Act of God drove them apart.
The Lord, it seems, has taken notice of John Groce and his recruiting efforts. This makes sense, because John Groce talks to The Lord every day, and often shares The Lord’s message with recruits.
The Lord works in mysterious ways, and men have failed to correctly interpret His message for about 6,000 years. Some people might interpret yesterday’s two hour lightning delay as an accident of meteorology. But as the skies opened up Saturday, I realized what He was trying to say, I think.
It is this: “Get thee behind me, Edotcash.”
I’m not absolutely sure that this was the message, because The Lord speaks in thunder. It might have simply been “Illinois is a basketball school.”
Either way, the power of The Lord is mighty to behold. On Saturday, The Lord chased an entire football stadium’s spectators indoors. Coleman and Thomas were among them.
Thomas and Coleman were in the student section when The Lord spoke. The visit to the student section has become something of a ritual. On this particular Saturday, it came early.
Toward the end of the first quarter, U of I police officer A.J. Martin informed the staff that a major storm was on the way, and that the stadium would probably be emptied soon. At that point, Mike LaTulip, Aaron Cosby and Aaron Jordan led the Official Visitors out of the grandstand, out of the stadium, and over to the student section — a separate building at the north end of Memorial Stadium.
Jalen Coleman seemed distinctly amused by the visit to the Block-I.
The visit was brief, perhaps even a little rushed. But it allowed the visitors to get a taste of local hero worship. As they climbed into the Block-I, semi-intoxicated engineers and finance majors chanted “We want Elijah!”
“And Jalen too!”
“Oh yeah, and definitely Jalen too!”
(You may think this chant lacks a certain panache, or euphony. Organized chanting is not the forte of the Block-I, which had a lot more members back when Illini football was relevant.)
Malcolm Hill, Michael Finke and Ahmad Starks were also watching the game from the student section. They too took cover in the Irwin Center. And that reminds me, if you say “Michael Finke is the Bees’ Knees” while ordering your fro-yo, you’ll get a dollar off at TCBY. Dig it.
The adults were separated from their phenom offspring at the moment of The Lord’s intervention. Jamall Walker took charge, coordinating the emergency/contingency planning: The recruits went out for a late lunch. You might call it “supper.” If they were British, “tea.” Whatever. High school athletes can eat more than you think.
Later, they went to look at dorm rooms, to see how they’d actually be living (large) were they to choose the University of Illinois.
Thomas spent much of the day looking at his pink smartphone. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that he was bored by his Official Visit. Rather, I would say that he’s a high school senior and it’s 2014. @edotcash is fully entrenched with social media #ILLijah
And to the extent that he seemed disengaged from the Illini staff as their attention shifted to the Jalen Coleman family, it’s important to note that Elijah has already declared a lifelong fealty toward John Groce, for a national audience.
Then you’ve got Illinois; Coach Groce is the most interesting of them all.
That’s my guy! If I didn’t pick Illinois I would still keep in touch with him. They were the second school to ever offer me a scholarship and we’ve built a relationship over the past few years that’s strong. Coach Groce has a plan for me that he shows me word-for-word; I like that. The Big Ten is a great conference and they’ve got D.J. Williams coming in, and I know that we could make noise. Then you’ve got the fan base; it’s hands down the best fan base I’ve ever seen and I was recruited by Kentucky and Duke, but those Illinois fans are the best I’ve seen.
Jalen Coleman did not stare at his phone all day. He listened intently to the pitch John Groce and staff (and Allison Groce) laid out.
By Sunday morning, the #ILLijah contingent (@msDDdee, @dcoleman05 and @edotcash himself) was en route back to Texas. But Delores left the Illini nation feeling good about the weekend.