Boys Basketball

Belleville East’s Pickett pleased to sign with Illinois

There was no wavering by Belleville East senior star Javon Pickett.

The 6-foot-5 Pickett honored his verbal commitment to the Illinois men’s basketball program Wednesday when he signed a national letter of intent in the East library.

“I think I made the right decision,” said Pickett, who committed to the Illini in January. “I didn’t want to go anywhere too far away. It’s the right place and I’m excited about the choice that I made.”

Another Illinois recruit, 6-10 senior Jeremiah Tilmon of East St. Louis, gave a verbal commitment to Illinois in July. But Tilmon will not sign Wednesday, leaving fans in Champaign concerned that he’s reconsidering his decision to play for the Illini.

Pickett, a two-year starter, averaged 23.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists last season while sinking 24 3-pointers. He had nine games with at least 30 points, and had 42 points against East St. Louis and 41 points against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.

Pickett, a Class 3A-4A first-team All-State selection last season, becomes the second recent player from East to sign with the Illini. Malcolm Hill, a 2013 graduate, is entering his senior season at Illinois and is one of the top players in the Big Ten.

“Of course, they have great academics,” Pickett said of Illinois. “But besides that, just going up there to play, meeting the fans, building a bond with the (other) players and seeing the atmosphere, I’m really looking forward to that.”

Pickett called Illinois coach John Groce “my guy.”

“He’s a real cool guy,” Pickett said. “He shows you that he’s behind you and he’s a big supporter to the players he recruits. I thank him so much for this opportunity he gave me to go to this school. He’s a good man and I can’t wait to play for him.”

Pickett and Althoff senior Jordan Goodwin, who signed Wednesday with St. Louis University, are close friends. Pickett would have enjoyed seeing Goodwin sign with the Illini.

“That would have been nice,” Pickett said. “But he did what was best for him.”

Pickett played half of last season after making his decision to attend Illinois, so he knows the benefits of having being finished with the recruiting process.

But having the letter of intent signed, there is an even greater sense of finalization.

“I think it will be a fun year,” Pickett said. “I’ll be happy to just go out there and have fun. We’re looking for big things to happen this year. I can just go out there and play.”

The Lancers were 18-11 overall and 8-6 in the Southwestern Conference last season. They finished tied for third with East St. Louis in the league standings, behind Edwardsville and Alton. Other East players returning include Rico Sylvester and Malachi Smith.

“We should be pretty good this season as long as we keep working,” Pickett said. “If we go out there and compete (hard), we should have a pretty decent team.”

Pickett said one of his goals is to become a more effective leader. He made noteworthy progress in that department last year, but believes he has room to grow.

“I could be more vocal on the court, encouraging my teammates,” he said. “I also want to become stronger and work on all aspects of my game. I just want to become a better player. Shoot the ball better. Handle the ball better. Play defense. Everything.

“I’m ready for the opener.”

The Lancers’ first game is Nov. 21 against Mascoutah in the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament. East will also play Springfield, Jerseyville and Centralia in the tournament.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm