Illinois notebook: Weber looking to secure commitments from recruits

John Supinie

Peoria Central High School guard D.J. Richardson has shown there's more than one way to reach the Illini basketball program, although Illinois coach Bruce Weber would prefer the trend doesn't continue.

Richardson is scheduled to graduate Friday from Findlay College Prep in suburban Las Vegas, and the Illini are optimistically awaiting his final grades. Richardson, who opted for prep school to boost his ACT score, left home to attend the high profile school. He became part of a program that worked its way to national invitational title and a spread in Sports Illustrated.

Recruiting analysts now are waiting to see if Waukegan junior forward Jereme Richmond and Chicago Crane junior guard Crandall Head -- two early commitments to the Illini -- will enroll in prep school. Weber would prefer recruits to remain in high school rather than leaving town.

"In D.J.'s case, it gave him a chance,'' Weber said. "Our No. 1 priority was for D.J. to stay at Central, get a chance to earn Mr. Basketball, go to the state tournament and do all those things you do as a senior. If you want to qualify, you want to make sure you give yourself the best opportunity.''

Illinois coaches have been in close contact with Richmond, Head and the administration at both high schools. In the latest top 150 rankings by Scout.com for the class of 2010, Richmond stands at No. 13 nationally, with Head at No. 38. Robinson junior Meyers Leonard, who has also committed, sky-rocketed to No. 48.

Illinois will push for more commitments from the 2011 class. The Illini gained a commitment from Chicago Mount Carmel guard Tracy Abrams midway through his sophomore season. After a dead period to end the month, the Illini will hold a team camp in early June, and the two-day Moody Bible camp in Chicago in late June.

Getting players on campus and spending time with recruits could lead to more early commitments next month.

Golf

Now that the Illini have reached the NCAA finals in men's golf for the second straight year, their next goal is qualifying among the top eight teams for match play competition that will determine the NCAA champ.

The 30 teams will play 54 holes to determine the match play field, which will be seeded. In years past, the NCAA championship was a stroke play event.

"Getting to the final eight is the next goal,'' said Illinois coach Mike Small. "Get to the final eight and anything can happen. I was a proponent of match play. Team golf should be match play in a perfect world. It will add a lot of interest and fan support by making the tournament easier to follow.''

The NCAA championships begin May 26. Following stroke-play qualifying, the quarterfinals and semifinals in match play are Friday with the championship match Saturday.

Illinois finished third in the Northeast Regional to advance to the NCAA after winning the Big Ten championship for the first time since 1988. Illinois won a school-record seven tournaments this year, but the Illini were fourth in the Big Ten match play event despite entering as the top seed.

Baseball

After dropping four of its last five Big Ten Conference games, Illinois fell from first to the fourth seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Illini open against fifth seeded Michigan State at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio. The tourney champ receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. No Big Ten team has played in the College World Series since Michigan in 1984.

Illinois earned its fifth consecutive trip to the tournament -- only the top six teams advance to tournament play -- but held the Big Ten lead with five games to play. The Illinois-Michigan State winner faces Ohio State.

The Buckeyes won their first regular-season title since 2001. Minnesota earned the second seed and a bye. The Gophers face the winner between third-seeded Indiana and sixth-seeded Purdue.

Track

The Illinois women won four individual titles and placed fourth in the Big Ten meet while senior Gakologelwang Masheto won his sixth career Big Ten title to lead the Illini men, who were ninth in the conference standings.

Junior Angela Bizzarri, a six-time All-American, won her first career Big Ten title with a meet record time of 15 minutes 54.86 seconds in the 5,000 meters. Senior Deserea Brown (400 hurdles), sophomore Melissa Bates (400) and junior Aja Evans (shot put) also won events.

After representing Botswana in the Beijing Olympics, Masheto won the 400 meters for the second time in his career at the outdoor championships after finishing second last season.

Football

Sophomore offensive lineman Mike Garrity, who hasn't played during his Illini career, was suspended indefinitely by coach Ron Zook after a weekend bar fight. Garrity was charged with two counts of felony aggravated battery, according to the Champaign County circuit clerk.

Garrity, 19, is from Batavia.

In other news

- Illinois ended the season with a 29-15 record in softball after losing to Missouri 5-1 and DePaul 6-0 in NCAA play. The Illini made their first tournament appearance since 2004. In its third NCAA appearance since the program began in 2000, Illinois failed to win a game for the first time.

- Incoming freshman Destiny Williams was one of 14 players retained for the under-19 team that will represent the United States in the World Championships later this summer. The roster will be trimmed to 12 just before the team leaves for the tournament in Bangkok, Thailand, in July.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.