As documented by the Fizz numerous times throughout the summer, Zion Cruz’s recruitment has more plot twists than a Christopher Nolan film. It may also be more difficult to decipher than Inception. Cruz has been linked to Auburn because he felt like they were family. He’s called North Carolina “a dream school.” Creighton jumped in as a finalist. And he’s now resetting his recruitment and re-opening it for everyone.
So come on in and join the party.
Cruz took to Instagram to announce: “Choosing where to attend college is one of the most important decisions that I’ll make in my life, and I want to make sure that I give it careful consideration. I am beyond thankful to all of the programs that have expressed interest in me and I take seriously my continued search for the program that is the best fit for my future goals.”
So where does that leave the list? Throw open the barn doors. Rivals Rob Cassidy has removed all three of the presumed finalists (Auburn, UNC, Creighton) and pieced together a completely different group. He does say UNC “may still be in the mix.” Shake up that Magic 8-Ball and out spits Illinois, Oklahoma, DePaul, Georgia and Washington as the “teams to watch.”
The fact Mike Hopkins has jumped into the fray should surprise no Syracuse fan. He had excellent success recruiting New York’s tri-state area, and Cruz is one of the best ever to come out of Jersey City, just over the river from Manhattan. But Illinois becomes an absolutely fascinating contender for Cruz, who is still one of the best combo guards of his class.
The Illini enter Year 5 of the Brad Underwood Era, and last season they turned into one of the best programs in the nation. They ripped through the Big Ten, winning 14 of their last 15 games in league. They earned a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and were a popular choice for the Final Four. They took out Drexel before losing to always plucky Loyola-Chicago in the Round of 32.
There’s talent again to be great, as enforcer Kofi Cockburn and most of the roster returns in tact. It’s easy to envision another tremendous year in Champagne, and Underwood has the train rolling. Brandin Podziemski, Luke Goode, and RJ Melendez are coming in and all are top 100 recruits. The Illini should be one of the best in the Big Ten again, plus have a young nucleus to carry over to ’22-’23.
This is where Cruz comes in. He’s a classic Big Ten point guard, a shot creator who relishes the moment. In a league with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois, the big city floor generals have tons of influence. Alphas from Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, New York and other tough playgrounds have had plenty of success in the Big Ten. Underwood has proven over the last 7 years to be able to extract everything out of his roster, and is now recruiting at a high level as well.
Could he land Cruz? He’s now among the finalists. Although as we’ve seen with this recruitment, that’s subject to change as well.