Jeremiah Tilmon is sticking to his word.
The East St. Louis senior and five-star basketball prospect announced Thursday that he will continue his playing career at the University of Illinois, just as he said he would last July.
With several East St. Louis classmates and teammates along with family members and friends gathered in the East St. Louis High School library, Tilmon provided little drama. Wearing a navy blue Nike Illinois polo shirt and with family members wearing Illini orange, Tilmon left no doubt.
“I’m going to the University of Illinois,” Tilmon told the crowd.
The decision wasn’t made without a lot agonizing — for athletes, coaches and fans alike.
When Tilmon told Fighting Illini coach John Groce he was headed to Champaign, it was widely assumed that summer-time teammate and coveted Althoff senior Jordan Goodwin would follow.
But Goodwin announced in August he would play for Travis Ford at Saint Louis University instead, triggering bouts of anxiety among Illinois observers and fans.
By the time Tilmon signed his national letter of intent Wednesday — the last day of the early-signing period — anxiety had turned to panic, as rumors spread about where the future would take the East St. Louis senior.
All those fears were put to rest Thursday amid a cluster of media members in the East St. Louis High School library.
So why the delay in signing?
“Everybody was expecting me to go to Illinois. But I was having a little fun with it. Play with their minds a little bit,” Tilmon said. “I was never going to take back my commitment. I just wanted to see how people would react to it. I just stayed positive. When I didn’t sign when last week when I was supposed to, the Illinois coaches started to come down here. It scared them a little bit. But I told them what I was doing and that I was going to honor my commitment.”
The news of Tilmon officially joining the Illinois basketball family was no doubt a relief to Groce. Tilmon’s signing along with that of Trent Frazier, Belleville East senior Javon Pickett and Da’Monte Williams makes the Illinois recruiting class one of the best in the nation.
Groce, in a prepared statement, said he was pleased Tilmon was the newest member of the Illinois family.
“We are thrilled to officially welcome Jeremiah to the Illini family,” Groce said. “He has been a top priority for our program for a number of years. Jeremiah has tremendous size, talent and skill. He is a dominant big with unlimited potential.”
Pickett, who signed with Illinois last week, was also on hand to watch his future college teammate make it official on Thursday.
“It’s great to have Jeremiah at Illinois with us. I know he was under a great deal of pressure, and for him to finally make it official today is a big relief for him,” Pickett said. “I was in contact with him through this, and I just kept believing that he was going to join us at Illinois.”
The final day of the current signing period was Wednesday so by the time Tilmon made his announcement, the commitment had already been sealed in ink. He had also been recruited by Indiana, Kansas, Kansas State, North Carolina, Kentucky and others.
East St. Louis coach Phillip Gilbert said the past week with speculation on Tilmon’s future increasing each day, has been a challenging one.
“I just wanted to make sure Jeremiah did what he felt was best for his future. People forget that these are 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids who have to make these decisions. It’s a lot of pressure,” Gilbert said. “I think maybe Jeremiah just needed to take a step back and clear his mind for a few days.”
Similar intrigue has followed Tilmon even throughout his high school career. He departed East St. Louis following his sophomore year for La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind. No sooner did his first season there end before the rumor mill began heralding his return to the metro-east, maybe even at Althoff.
Rumors were confirmed in part on Aug. 15, when the 6-foot-10, 235-pound post player enrolled for the fall semester at East Side. He told the News-Democrat at the time he had made contact with Althoff about the possibility of playing for the defending state champion Crusaders, a conversation confirmed by coach Greg Leib.
Tilmon is rated among the top 25 recruits in the nation by most recruiting websites. ESPN.com had Tilmon rated the top 2017 recruit in Illinois and No. 23 nationally. Scout.com lists him as the nations 19th best recruit, while Rivals.com has him at No. 24.
East St. Louis opens its season against Champaign Central at the Springfield-Lanphier Tournament on Tuesday.
Tilmon said with his decision made he’s looking forward to staying healthy and continuing to work on his game.
“I’m an offensive player, and so I’ve been working on my defense and getting stronger,” Tilmon said. “I just want to stay healthy and work on my game. I’d like to make it to the Final Four at some time during my career.”