Illinois Basketball: Time to get over the Talen Horton-Tucker drama

CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 27: Illinois Fighting Illinois fans cheer against the Michigan Wolverines during the game at Assembly Hall on January 27, 2013 in Champaign, Illinois. Michigan defeated Illinois 74-60. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 27: Illinois Fighting Illinois fans cheer against the Michigan Wolverines during the game at Assembly Hall on January 27, 2013 in Champaign, Illinois. Michigan defeated Illinois 74-60. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The Illinois basketball Twitterverse blew up last night when 17-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker of Chicago Simeon chose Iowa State over Illinois.

But it wasn’t the usual and all too common “blow up” Illini fans are used to.  Generally, when Illini Nation loses its collective mind on Twitter, it is because some top 100 recruit or the other “snubbed” Illinois in favor of one of the other 346 Division I colleges out there.  The emotions range from vitriolic anger to a self-pitying resignation that “no one likes us anymore.”

But last night was different.  There was plenty of anger and pity, but there was also a ton of confusion and head scratching and for a good reason.

If you had been paying attention over the last few weeks – and man, sometimes I wish I wasn’t paying attention to any of this – you knew that Talen Horton-Tucker (THT) was all but committed to Iowa State.  The 247 Sports Crystal Ball, which has been very accurate on Illini recruits this year as far as I can tell, was solid – like 91-percent – Iowa State.  Everyone knew he had connections to the players the Cyclones had already recruited – or “poached” if you’re so inclined – from Chicago.

Then, last Thursday night, Ayo Dosunmu committed to Illinois.  The Illini Twitterverse threw a party.  We couldn’t get enough of the feeds.  It was such a refreshing change of pace.  A five-star point guard from Chicago…CHICAGO!…chose Illinois.  But it didn’t take long for everyone, including me, to start asking “who’s next?”  THT was visiting Champaign that weekend.  Did Ayo open the door to make THT comfortable coming to Illinois?  It sure looked that way.

On Sunday, THT trimmed his list of seven schools to three, and guess what?  The Illini made the cut!  The visit was a success.  The Ayo effect was in full force.  As this week progressed the Crystal Ball started trending Illini.  40-percent, 50-percent, reaching as high as 81-percent last time I checked.  And it was coming from many experts.  Illini Nation became convinced that it was going to happen and apparently for good reason because it was happening.  Everyone knew it.

Yesterday, however, it got “foggy” as the “experts” say.  There was an issue because THT didn’t play for the Mac Irvin Fire, Ayo’s AAU team, last summer.  He was on the Fire, but he left for a different program.  That apparently is the difference here. In case you haven’t followed it, I think it is summarized well here by Sun-Times reporter Michael O’Brien.

THT chose Iowa State.   But apparently, he wanted to choose Illinois.  He must have fallen in love with us – the Illini fans – clamoring to see him in the O&B wearing famed number “25” – a number “reserved” at Illinois for Simeon grads in honor of the late great Ben Wilson.  It has been reported that the Illini pulled its offer as demanded by the Irvin family. However, that reporting appears to be in question now.  I’m sure the truth will be revealed soon.  I’d like to think that the original isn’t true and will be relieved if indeed it isn’t.  Illini Nation cried and wailed and gnashed its teeth.  And is still doing so today.

The narrative seems to be that the influence of some adults (read the Irvins) and the “politics” of Chicago AAU basketball prevented THT from choosing Illinois – the place he really wanted to go.

Respectfully fans, I think you need to “grow up.”  While it might be “sad” what happened here, who are you really upset for?  THT wanted to go to Iowa State all along.  If he’d wanted to choose Illinois he could have done so a long time ago.  I agree that all indicators point to him changing his mind this week as the idea of helping his home-state school rise again gained his attention.  But if it is true that it came down to a choice for Underwood between THT or Ayo, then Ayo was the best pick for Illinois to meet the needs of the program in the near term, right?

Ayo is Underwood’s offense.  And if it is true that a pipeline to Mac Irvin Fire talent is now open, as opposed to a Simeon pipeline – and honestly what good has that done the Illini over the last couple of decades – then I’ll take it.

Politics, if that is what you want to call this, isn’t illegal.  It is a reality.  We can yell and scream on Twitter all day about how this went down and who is to blame – and many will – but it’s done.  And by the way, Underwood did what is right for the program.  Isn’t that what he was hired to do?

Next: Thoughts on the Talen Horton-Tucker situation

Also, don’t forget that THT is going to the school that he kind of wanted to go to all along.  He’ll be very happy and very successful there.  His parents guided him correctly at the end of the day.  The parents of both of these kids seem very loving and motivated by guiding their respective children – and that is what they are at this point – to do the right thing and to take the high road.  Let’s follow their lead.

For the sake of Ayo, THT, and our collective sanity, let’s move on.