Illinois notebook: Illini looking to Indiana for recruits

John Supinie

The sophomore class in the state of Indiana is good. Very good. In fact, it began getting notice in 2004 when these guys were still grade schoolers.

Kevin "Yogi''  Ferrell, a point guard who led Indianapolis Park Tudor to the Class 2A state championship game last month, was named the nation's top fourth-grader six years ago by Hoop Scoop. With the number of major-college prospects in Illinois' sophomore class as low as it has been for any group in the last 10 years, there's a reason why Illini recruiters would fight tradition and head across the state line to Indiana, where the sophomores form one of the state's best classes in the past 20 years.

Getting a recruit out of Indiana would be an upset, but the Illini will make use of coach Bruce Weber's contacts there from his days as a Purdue assistant.

"There are a lot of kids in that class,'' Weber said. "You hope you have a chance of getting one. If Purdue takes a certain guy and Indiana a certain guy, you hope to sneak in there. I have relationships there. (Assistant Jay Price) has relationships. It's not like we're an unknown.''

Add Notre Dame and Butler, and there are plenty of big-name programs trying to keep players from leaving the state. Illinois hasn't had a letterman from Indiana since Scott Haffner of Noblesville in 1985. The last verbal commitment came from Eric Gordon, who made a late switch to Indiana and left the Illini empty-handed.

Illinois has already offered Ferrell and a wish list of Hoosier Hysteria sophomore prospects:

-- Gary Bowman forward DeJuan Marrero, an undersized power forward who has guard skills and the fight of a bulldog;

-- Explosive guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera of Indianapolis North Central (the same school that produced Gordon);

-- Indianapolis Broad Ripple forward Ron Patterson, who is known for his athletic ability;

-- Lawrence Central forward Jeremy Hollowell, who, like the others, has a string of offers from high majors;

-- Hamilton Southeastern's Gary Harris, a combo guard described as a tough kid and football player that the Illini need on a roster filled with finesse.

Illinois offered all six players scholarships. All of them have already been on campus on unofficial visits and during the camp season. The Illini are also making a run at Gary Wallace junior Branden Dawson, a powerful small forward.

McCAMEY UPDATE: Illinois guard Demetri McCamey isn't expected to be a first-round pick in the NBA draft, but there's nothing wrong with putting his name in the NBA draft, seeking feedback and feeling good about a decision, Weber said.

An Internet report said McCamey would declare for the draft Wednesday. Weber and McCamey were scheduled to meet Wednesday, one day after the team banquet. McCamey would have until April 25 to apply for the draft and May 8 to pull his name.

"If he wants to put his name in, there's no harm,'' Weber said. "The big thing is to do it the right way.''

McCamey would retain his eligibility if he meets the deadlines and doesn't hire an agent. He can't miss school for a workout with NBA personnel. Weber was unsure if he could host a workout on campus, similar to the individual workouts in football before NFL scouts.

McCamey indicated he wouldn't skip his senior season for a chance at a second-round selection or a contract overseas.

FOOTBALL: If the Illini played a game Tuesday, redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase would be the starter. He's taken the bulk of the snaps with the first-string in preseason practice. The learning curve doesn't extend to the signals flashed from the sidelines.

A coach will remain in his ear, giving him the plays during the scrimmages, said offensive coordinator Paul Petrino.

"I want him to worry about playing right now and not learning all the signals,'' Petrino said. "I don't want somebody coming in here and stealing our signals. He can work on that this summer. At the end of spring recruiting, we'll give him a signal tape. He can do it on his own this summer.''

IN OTHER NEWS: Senior center Jenna Smith earned team MVP for the third consecutive season in women's basketball. Smith was a second-round pick by Washington in the WNBA draft. Senior forward Lacey Simpson earned best defensive player. She accepted an invitation for training camp with San Antonio. Other awards went to Lydia McCully (most improved), Karisma Penn (most courageous), Amber Moore (most inspirational), Kersten Magrum (coaches award), Adrienne GodBold (sixth man); and Smith (free throws). … Illinois baseball (13-13 overall, 3-3 in the Big Ten) lost two of three at Iowa over the weekend. The Illini host Eastern Illinois on Tuesday and meet Southern Illinois on Wednesday in Marion. Illinois hosts Michigan in a weekend Big Ten series. … No. 18 Illinois split a two-game series with No. 20 Ohio State in softball. The Illini (27-5, 3-2) play at Illinois State on Tuesday, host Eastern Illinois on Thursday and play at two games at Penn State this weekend.  

John Supinie can be reached at