Belleville West junior EJ Liddell, one of the most sought-after basketball recruits in the country, will take an unofficial visit to Kansas State on Saturday.
The Wildcats are coached by Bruce Weber, who formerly coached Illinois and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Kansas State was 21-14 last season, losing to Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas State is one of nine schools that have offered Liddell a scholarship, along with Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Iowa State, Saint Louis University, DePaul, SIU Carbondale and Illinois State.
The 6-foot-7 Liddell, who averaged 19.6 points and 7.4 rebounds as a sophomore for the Maroons, already has taken unofficial visits to Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. He can begin taking official NCAA-paid visits in January.
“They all seem pretty good at this point,” Liddell said of his possible destinations. “I’m just enjoying the process so far. It’s been fun. All the coaches tell me how much they see I can improve — my potential level. They’ve seen my improvement over the years.”
Liddell isn’t close to making a decision. His game still is evolving, and with two years of high school remaining, many more offers are certain to land at his doorstep. He is a Top 100 in the country according to rivals.com (No. 90) and scout.com (No. 95).
“I just want to fit in and be a ballplayer, not have a certain position,” Liddell said. “I get a lot of letters. Since school started, it’s slowed down because (coaches) know I have to focus on school. But before then, I was getting a lot of calls and texts.”
Liddell’s visit to Missouri was Sunday. The Tigers will be entering their first season under coach Cuonzo Martin, the East St. Louis native who was hired in March. Martin, previously at California, already has flexed his recruiting muscle in the metro-east by landing former Flyers center Jeremiah Tilmon and Belleville East forward Javon Pickett.
“Coach Cuonzo is a really great talker,” said Liddell, 16. “I like the way all the coaches get to know you. I got to meet Michael Porter Jr. again, and he was just talking about how good Missouri has been to him.”
Liddell’s family, led by parents Eric and Michelle Liddell, provides a solid support system. Eric Liddell was an all-state tackle at Assumption High in East St. Louis and a four-year starter at Illinois State. Michelle Liddell was a star volleyball player at Illinois State.
“My parents are with me; they’ve been through this once,” EJ Liddell said. “I feel like I can handle it. If my parents love (a school), I do, too. But the decision is basically on me.”
When West’s season ended in March, Liddell played AAU basketball with Bradley Beal Elite, formerly the St. Louis Eagles, of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. Liddell was coached by Corey Frazier, also the coach at John Burroughs High in St. Louis.
“This summer, I think I did good moving from (under) 16s to (under) 17s. That was a good transition for me,” Liddell said. “I feel like I have more experience on the 17s and know what I have to play against next year. I think I really improved on my ball handling and my confidence level.”
I think the next stage of his game is he’s got to be a more consistent 3-point shooter and I think he’s got to be able to blow by a defender, pull up and shoot a jump shot from 16, 17 feet.
Joe Muniz, Belleville West basketball coach
After the AAU season, Liddell played summer ball for the Maroons.
“This summer, he would just catch, rip and go by somebody off the dribble from 20, 22 feet,” West coach Joe Muniz said. “I think the next stage of his game is he’s got to be a more consistent 3-point shooter and I think he’s got to be able to blow by a defender, pull up and shoot a jump shot from 16, 17 feet.”
One of Liddell’s new teammates is senior Malachi Smith, a transfer from Belleville East.
“I like how Malachi plays,” Liddell said. “He’s not a selfish player, but if he’s open and has a shot, he’s going to shoot it. I feel like he’ll knock it down. Our connection off the court is going to help because Malachi and I hang out all the time. He’s one of my best friends.”
Liddell had a 43-point game against Smith and the Lancers in the postseason.
Liddell participated in open gyms this summer with Edwardsville High graduate Mark Smith, the freshman guard at Illinois who was Mr. Basketball in the state. Smith had offers from many of the elite programs in the country, including Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State, before selecting Illinois in April.
They all seem pretty good at this point. I’m just enjoying the process so far. It’s been fun. All the coaches tell me how much they see I can improve – my potential level.
EJ Liddell, Belleville West junior on his college basketball possibilities
“He’s been saying, ‘Just take it slow,’” Liddell said. “He took a while to decide.
“I’m just being humble and will keep doing my thing. I’m going to keep being the person I’ve always been – a nice person. I’ve just been enjoying it. My dad has been telling me, ‘Don’t let it go to your head.’ I haven’t. My mom tells me the same thing.”
Muniz lauded Liddell for keeping everything in perspective.
“EJ has his head on his shoulders. It’s not like he rubs it in everybody’s face,” Muniz said. “He’s just EJ. He goes about his business and does it the right way. He represents Belleville West and the city of Belleville in the right way.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm