Comparing and contrasting to the more familiar or to the past is a recruiting epidemic. You can tell how fruitless the exercise is when the recruit himself is asked, “People have compared your game to blah blah blah, would you say that’s accurate?” and the answer is almost always, “I’m not trying to be anybody else, I just play my game.” So why do recruiting comparisons fuel such attention, and why is it just so much fun to argue about them?
How we remember the 2015 recruits will depend more on their success together and what they become years from now, so whatever shell we put on them today they’re bound to grow out of. Is Michael Finke more Robbie Hummel, Bill Cole, or now that he’s 6-10 and 235 pounds, is he more Jack Ingram? Is Leron Black going to be the new Roger Powell Jr., and is that 6-7 listing with shoes or without?
Yes, I maintain the comparisons are fruitless, but because it’s just so much fun to be redundantly useless in recruiting speculation, I’m breaking out every incoming kid from 2015 into three categories for you Illini fans: Which Illini player of the recent past do they most closely resemble, which Big Ten player do they remind me of, and which NBA player most closely resembles the recruit’s finished product, or the ceiling?
Illini Comparison – Brandon Paul. Wired to score, but influences the game in so many ways because of that perfectly suited length and quickness. Most of the comparisons on this list are going to be “best case scenario”-type guesses, but not this one. I believe that JCL will be better in most areas from the jump including shooting, ball-handling and passing.
Big Ten Comparison – Gary Harris, Michigan State. Like I said, most of these are best case scenarios. Although JCL is the most talented guard prospect Illinois has brought in since Dee Brown, he isn’t Gary Harris, and I don’t expect him to be a lottery pick after his sophomore year. But, there are many similarities including work ethic, toughness and of course dead-eye shooting from deep.
NBA Comparison – Ben Gordon, Orlando Magic. Like Gordon, Coleman-Lands will be influenced to develop his lead guard abilities in college in order to translate to the league. And like Gordon, that will probably fail should he get to the NBA and realize he’s a microwave scorer. Gordon had some electric scoring years, and that would probably be JCL’s role in the NBA. Not a bad way to earn living.
Illini Comparison – Jamar Smith. Like Smith, Jordan is more than a 3-point shooter, but it’s that skill that will earn him early minutes. Smith was also a very capable ball handler and defender, and before he left the program was developing other strong offensive skills. Jordan might be farther along in his progress than Jamar was at the same stage, but he’s got that same wet-ball from deep.
Big Ten Comparison – Caris Levert, Michigan. As most Illini fans know, Levert was committed to Groce at Ohio and when he left, Levert didn’t follow or get offered to follow at Illinois. And this is another I-know-Jordan-isn’t-as-good-as-Levert-is-now thing, but their games are similar. Jordan is a legit 6-5 now and growing, and also impossibly long (like Levert), so when his skills continue to develop and he starts to understand how he can influence a game when surrounded by other talented players, his game could develop into a Levert-type role.
NBA Comparison – Michael Redd, retired. I love this comparison. Just let it live for what it is.
Illini Comparison – Jereme Richmond. People want to say Joe Bertrand, but that isn’t what Williams is. Yes, Williams is relatively the same size but he isn’t the same type of jumper. He is a much more well-rounded and smoother athlete. Like Richmond, Williams is big enough to play the 1-4, and possesses many skills that allow him to adapt to different systems.
Big Ten Comparison – Devyn Marble, Iowa. Thought I was going to say Evan Turner, didn’t you? No, I won’t go there. It’s tough to compare incoming recruits to National Players of the Year. Instead I think Williams has a lot of Marble to his game, and hopefully for the Illini he develops into the same type of finisher.
NBA Comparison – Greivis Vasquez, Toronto Raptors. Vasquez isn’t in Lebron James’ class of 25, 12 and 8, but he does fill out the stat sheet in a number of ways. If DJ continues to develop and “gets it” during his time at Illinois, he has the tools to stick in the league and make an impact scoring, passing and rebounding. The way the game of basketball has changed at the pro level suits DJ more than most.
Illini Comparison – Shaun Pruitt. Illini’s last big bodies scorer that could get you a bucket on the block. Pruitt wasn’t an above-the-rim player but he did have an old man post-game that got it done. The one thing Paul obviously does differently than Pruitt is pass – Paul is an elite passing big man, Pruitt hated to pass more than Bruce Weber hated zone defense.
Big Ten Comparison – Marco Killingsworth, Indiana. In my opinion, Killingsworth is one of the most disliked players in Big Ten history so it might be nice to have a player like that on the Illini squad. Killingsworth was a monster on the court with size and strength; if Paul has brought his life into order and buys into Groce, he’ll have a little Killingsworth in his game.
NBA Comparison – Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs. A big man with great feel for the game, Paul’s body and IQ are reminiscent of Diaw before he found the love of his life: cupcakes and bacon.