10 Names You'll Learn In 2020
I was just looking up last year's 10 Names You'll Learn article and I started with the tidbit that Illinois won 12 games in calendar year 2018: 4 basketball wins in Jan/Feb, 4 football wins, 4 basketball wins in Nov/Dec. I looked up the same for 2019 and here's the results:
Basketball wins in Jan/Feb: 8
Football wins: 6
Basketball wins in Nov/Dec: 9
23! Had we won the bowl game, we could have doubled that win total. And no, I won't look up Ohio State so you can see what a real number looks like. Let's just cling to something like "from 12 to 23 this year and now from 23 to 35 next year" until it doesn't happen.
OK, let's start with last year's list to see how I did:
1. Milo Eifler (Needs to make another step forward next year but a solid first year for the transfer)
2. Mica Allison (Missed the first part of the volleyball season with an injury and played only half the sets on the season.)
3. Michael Massey (All Big Ten first team, declared for the draft, picked in the 4th round by the Kansas City Royals)
4. Adam Miller (I always pick a basketball recruiting name and sometimes they go elsewhere like Francis Okoro so it's nice to land The Guy We Had To Land)
5. Donny Navarro (This was the best name on this list. From unknown walkon transfer a year ago to 27 catches for 345 yards and 2 touchdowns)
6. Alex Brown (Honestly, I picked the wrong tennis player. Aleks Kovacevic was the breakout player who made it all the way to the NCAA semifinals)
7. Jada Peebles (freshman guard is 4th on the team in scoring and has started 11 of the 13 games but her classmate Kennedi Myles is grabbing all the headlines)
8. Adrien Dumont de Chassart (won the Big Ten title as a freshman, helped lead the golf team back to the NCAA's for the 12th straight year)
9. Zeriah Beason (Marquez' cousin was the football recruit I picked for my list, but he picked Oregon State)
10. Anthony Higgs (I'm officially eliminating "pick one player from the basketball roster" from this list because Higgs was the only name on the roster people didn't know - and then he transferred to a junior college)
Overall I felt really good about this list. Higgs was a bust, and Beason picked Oregon State, but other than that, I'm happy with how it turned out. Landed Miller, Massey was drafted in the 4th round, Donny now on scholarship, ADDC won the Big Ten, Peebles is starting as a true freshman, etc. I really should have included track speedster Devin Quinn (his 10.01 at the NCAA's was the fastest 100m time in Big Ten history), but that's my only real regret.
(One side note: I always rail on how players drop once they commit to Illinois. Well it happens to other programs similar to Illinois as well. When Zeriah Beason committed to Oregon State, he was a 4-star with a .9052 rating ranked 276th. By the time he signed with Oregon State last month he was a 3-star with a rating of .8614 ranked 808th in the class. From 276 to 808 just because he picked Oregon State. And yes - some players prove to not be good once they have senior film and they drop because of their performance. It simply happens too much to players going to Illinois/Oregon State/Kansas and not enough to players going to Texas/Georgia/Nebraska.)
Right to it. Ten names that will become Adam Miller-like (or Donny Navarro-like) in the next 12 months:
1. Chase Brown
You know his twin brother - third-team All Big Ten sophomore safety Sydney Brown. And you got to see a tiny glimpse of him on the field this fall (he played in four games once he received a waiver to play right away after transferring in from Western Michigan). He played mostly on special teams, but he did get three carries against Rutgers (18 yards - average of 6 per rush). Then they shut him down so that he returns next year as a sophomore and not a junior.
But with Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown graduating, I really do think Chase Brown is in the rotation next year. I see it this way: Mike Epstein takes Reggie Corbin's spot, Chase Brown takes Dre Brown's spot, and RaVon Bonner gets RaVon Bonner's carries. I'll probably change my opinion in the spring and summer, but for now, that's how I see the tailback rotation.
Brown was the first ever in-person LLUOI evaluation. His transfer was announced in August when he showed up at training camp, so I got to do the LLUOI in person. And after one practice, I gave him 3.5 Tom Cruises. I really do think he can be a big contributor.
Here, just see for yourself. Yes, the jersey says "Brown", but this is Chase, not Dre:
2. Bella Loya
This one is kind of cheating since she ~was~ a third-team All American last year as a sophomore. But I don't think "Illini softball" and "Bella Loya" are synonymous yet, so I'm choosing to put her on this list since you're going to hear her name all spring.
Last year's hitting statistics: .366 with 28 R, 63 H, 12 2B, 12 HR, and 48 RBI. Which followed a freshman year where she it 362 with 30 R, 55 H, 12 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR, and 37 RBI. The goals are lofty now that she's a junior. If you're a third-team All American as a sophomore with all-freshman team as a freshman and then first team All Big Ten as a sophomore, all that's left is maybe first team All American and Big Ten Player of the Year.
So get to know her name. Because she likely wins the female Dike Eddleman award one of the next two years as the best female athlete on campus. Maybe both?
3. Brandon Weston
I always pick a basketball recruit, so for 2020 I'm going back to Morgan Park High School and picking Brandon Weston. Our relationship with Morgan Park has been strong (Ayo, Adam Miller), so now we hope to go back to the well for Brandon Weston.
Weston, a 6'-4" wing, is currently 82nd in the composite rankings for the 2021 class. His Twitter shows offers from Wake Forest, Seton Hall, St. Louis, St. John's, Arizona State, Nebraska, and Illinois so far. And I'm guessing that list increases this spring and summer.
But the Morgan Park is what sticks out to me. Landed Ayo, landed Miller, time to land Weston.
4. Jerry Ji
No, not Jerry Gee. Jerry Ji. The freshman golfer from the Netherlands.
He's already participated in golf tournaments (fall season), so you might know his name already. And I wrote about him in the spring and the fall during two "write about golf" Pick My Post posts which where I chose golf as the topic. But this spring is when you should really learn his name.
Going by the world amateur golf rankings, Ji is the highest rated golf recruit in a long time. And in case you're wondering "how does someone rank golf players from around the world?", these rankings are about 25 times more accurate than football recruiting rankings. There are junior golf tournaments everywhere, around the world, every weekend, and those rankings simply calculate who beat who in those dozens of tournaments.
Ji is currently 67th on that list. The established golfers on the team - sophomore Adrien Dumont de Chassart and senior Michael Feagles - are 125th and 171st, respectively. So while he's only a freshman, Ji has the talent to be the best player on the team for four years.
5. Ellie Holzman
She should have been on the 2019 list, really. Holzman was the national Gatorade Player of the Year in high school (as in, the top high school volleyball player in the country), but an injury cost her the entire 2019 season. She redshirted, so she'll return in the fall as a freshman.
And she'll be needed. Chris Tamas loses a two time first-team All American (Jacqueline Quade) at outside hitter, and that production will likely go to Holzman. Those are massive shoes to fill, but who better to fill them than a recruit who was chosen for Gatorade National Player of the Year?
6. Tyler Rybarczyk
OK I cheated. I texted Ben and asked him for a name from the baseball team. And he gave me a name I'm going to struggle to pronounce. Rye-BAR-chick maybe? Apparently this is a Name You'll Learn at the same time that I do.
Rybarczyk is a transfer from Parkland who put up big juco numbers. He was a junior college All American with an 8-1 record, 0,96 ERA, and a 5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. There are holes in the rotation, and I (Ben) expects Rybarczyk to step right in. Can't wait to learn how his name is pronounced.
7. Derrick Smith
I could cheat and use Luke Ford here but I'm guessing you already know his name. Same with Marquez Beason. Like Holzman above, he missed the entire season so he hasn't played yet, but I'm guessing you know his name.
So it was down to Tarique Barnes (who could go from unknown to starting middle linebacker) or Derrick Smith, and I chose Derrick Smith. Who is Derrick Smith? A guy who started at safety for Miami as a freshman and sophomore but then was passed over in fall camp and decided to transfer. He tweeted four finalists, but it likely came down to Nebraska and Illinois and he picked Illinois.
At the time (at the press conference the day after he enrolled), Lovie mentioned that he'd likely play linebacker, but then this fall he was tweeting things about playing safety. And I'm guessing safety is where he ends up. Out goes Stanley Green (graudated), in comes Derrick Smith.
8. Sarah Haveman
Josh Whitman has hired coaches for 6 of the 19 programs so far. And his best hire might be Sarah Haveman? Two years ago, the women's cross country program finished 24th at the NCAA Regional (only the top two finishers automatically qualify for nationals). This season, they won the regional and finished 22nd at nationals, their highest finish in more than a decade.
(Side note - if we ranked the six coaching hires Whitman has made based on what they've produced so far, uh, I think Lovie is fifth and Underwood is 6th out of 6? Haveman was Midwest Region Coach of the Year this year, Chris Tamas made a volleyball Final Four, Evan Clark has the women's tennis program in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time ever, and Nadalie Walsh - OK I'll admit I have no idea how the women's gymnastics program is doing. But seriously - are Lovie and Underwood 5th and 6th?)
Here's something about Haveman you probably don't know: she's also the men's cross country coach. Whitman reorganized the track and cross country coaches a few years ago and Haveman took over both XC teams. The men's team finished 9th at their regional, led mostly by freshmen and sophomores. So the Illini coach you should probably get to know: Sarah Haveman.
9. Dominic Lovett
I always need a football recruit on this list, and because I'm a Metro East guy (born and raised - I live on the bad side of the river now), I'm picking the guy who transferred from Belleville West (where he played with Keith Randolph) to East St. Louis (where he won a state title).
We have made big inroads in St. Louis, but we haven't really cracked the East St. Louis nut. But with Barry Odom fired at Missouri, that 15 year pipeline of ESL players going to play for Pinkel or Odom should come to an end. Time to get them pointed towards Champaign. Starting with a 4-star wide receiver who would be perfect for this offense.
10. Austin Hutcherson
OK, yes, I'm not eliminating "I should have a current player on the basketball roster" from this list. Last year I was forced to pick Higgs (you knew all the other names because they were all playing), but this year I have two transfers you might not know - Jacob Grandison from Holy Cross and Austin Hutcherson from a tiny Division III school no one has ever heard of. I gave Hutcherson more Tom Cruises, so I'm going with Hutcherson as the breakout player whose name you'll learn by this time next year.
He was a Division III All American as a freshman, scoring 20 points per game, and he was encouraged by those around him to make the leap to D-I. He grabbed offers from Notre Dame, Creighton, and Illinois and picked the Illini.
And he's (hopefully) that wing player we desperately need. I mean, you've been watching the games - desperately needed. Hopefully, this time next year we're all saying "man, Hutcherson absolutely patched that hole on the wing". I hear a tall scoring threat from the wing who can shoot threes is a good thing to have on a basketball team?