Illinois to bolster depth with juco transfers

We can all agree Illinois coach Tim Beckman took the wrong approach in trying to pry players away from Penn State in the wake of last summer's sanctions.

Even Beckman, injected with some truth serum, likely would acknowledge the Illini should have been more subtle.

But Beckman's ultimate goal with the endeavor -- to boost depth on his roster -- was completely understandable. Illinois lacked the scholarship numbers of many of its Big Ten brethren. As injuries began piling up during the season, Illinois' depth issues became magnified. Those issues remain entering the offseason.

Beckman isn't planning a second raid attempt on Penn State. Instead, he and his assistants have turned their attention toward the junior-college ranks.

Illinois has secured commitments from five junior college players, by far the most in the Big Ten. It's the largest juco haul Illinois has had since the Mike White era in the early 1980s. According to The (Champaign) News-Gazette, Beckman's predecessor Ron Zook brought in eight junior college players in seven seasons.

And Beckman is far from through.

From The News-Gazette:

Beckman's goal is to bring in as many as eight JC transfers.

"The way to push this program forward, and the way I've seen it done, is with people," Beckman said Friday after returning from another of his recruiting trips. "We have a lack of depth in our upper classes, and we need to get more quality players involved. There are opportunities for players on this team, and we have to surround them with new additions. We accumulated junior college transcripts and brought them in so the university could tell us the ones that they thought would be successful academically here. We've had a good response in this area."

Beckman told the newspaper that along with five high school recruits expected to enroll early, Illinois should have 10-13 early enrollees in January. The Illini have only a handful of fifth-year seniors, and their freshman class also is fairly small.

Some might scoff at the juco strategy, which isn't nearly as common in the Big Ten as it is in other power conferences. There are definite risks with juco players, although many pan out. But Beckman has little choice given Illinois' depth concerns, and because of the pressure he'll face to win in Year 2 after a disastrous 2-10 campaign this fall.

Illinois could sign the largest class in the Big Ten in February. ESPN Recruiting currently ranks Illinois' class seventh in the Big Ten and 39th nationally.