NORMAL, Ill. – After verbally committing to Illinois State and first-year head coach Tim Jankovich over the summer, former Redbird guard and current Lincoln College star Bobby Hill, Decatur Eisenhower forward Jeremy Robinson and Chicago Simeon point guard Kenyon Smith made it official Wednesday, signing their respective National Letters of Intent to continue their education and basketball careers at ISU. All three players will begin their eligibility in the 2008-09 campaign.
Hill transferred to Lincoln College from ISU in August. He averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds per game at ISU last season, but was mainly used as a defensive specialist. The St. Louis native started eight of the last nine games of the season, and averaged 11.1 minutes-per-contest.
“Our entire team and staff is elated that Bobby (Hill) will be coming back into our program, but no one is happier than I am,” said Jankovich. “I love him as a player and as a person. We have big plans for him and it is good to get our family back intact.”
This season, Hill is averaging 16.6 points, six rebounds and two assists-per-game through five contests at Lincoln. Hill has also improved his scoring efficiency, shooting at a 45 percent clip from the field, including a 43 percent mark from beyond the three-point arc. Hill did not attempt a three-point field goal last season as a Redbird.
“Socially, and as a person, Bobby has been incredible to work with,” said Lincoln head coach B.J. McCallum. “He is one of the most responsible young men that I have ever coached. Other than the day that he made his official visit to Illinois State (Oct. 11), Bobby has not missed a class. He has completed every assignment, and his focus academically has been incredible. It’s just been great to see.
“Basketball-wise, as most Illinois State fans know, Bobby is a great defender, and we’ve seen more of that early this season. We have used him on some great opposing players. But offensively is where Bobby has made the most strides. He has worked very hard at expanding his game. His biggest improvements need to come with dribbling and ball handling in general, but his work ethic is good, and he has been a very physical and intelligent player for us.”
Hill is happy to return to Illinois State for his junior season.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to return to Illinois State and rejoin my teammates next season,” said Hill. “They are going to have a great team this year, and I hope to add to that when I come back.
“I think my game has really improved since I’ve been here (at Lincoln). I’ve put on about 20 pounds, and my focus now is much more similar to what it was coming out of high school. I’m approaching games as a scorer rather than just a defender. I still want to continue to improve my power and scoring ability.”
Robinson, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward, became Jankovich’s first verbal commitment in mid-July. As a junior (2006-07), he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds-per-game as the Panthers advanced to the Illinois Class AA super-sectional before losing to O’Fallon, which went on to finish second in the state tournament. Following the season, Robinson was named to the All-Big 12 Conference First Team. With Robinson and teammate Lewis Jackson returning, Eisenhower is slated to be one of the state’s top teams this season.
Robinson transferred to Eisenhower from Oxford High School (Mississippi) in the middle of his sophomore year.
“Jeremy (Robinson) was our first commitment, and what a great one he was,” said Jankovich. “He has all the tools to be an outstanding player. It will be great to work with a long, tall, bouncy athlete who has a great love for the game.”
With the Panthers, Robinson has been coached by Jeremy Moore.
“Jeremy has great size, and has the frame to be to be able to put on about 20-25 more pounds of muscle when he gets into a more established weight program,” said Moore. “He is very athletic, but Jeremy’s strongest physical attributes are rebounding, and the ability to put the ball in the basket. He also has a great willingness to learn. He has been an absolute sponge ever since he joined our program as a junior.”
Robinson saw Illinois State as a great fit, due both to the style of play and the cohesiveness of the coaching staff.
“Illinois State was a great choice for me, because the coaches were around since day one,” said Robinson. “We developed a great relationship during the recruiting process, and it became a great fit.”
“I just want to find my role, and add to what Illinois State already has, which is a very talented team. I am excited about playing in an up-tempo, transition style of play. I’ve been playing like that since eighth grade, so I see it being a fairly smooth transition.”
Smith, a 6-foot guard, verbally committed to Illinois State in early September. Last season, he was the back-up point guard behind Derrick Rose, who was highly regarded as one of the nation’s top players by various recruiting services. Smith averaged 4.3 points and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 46 percent from three-point range last season, as Simeon won its second-consecutive Class AA state championship.
“People will love Kenyon (Smith),” said Jankovich. “He is an exciting, tough, versatile player that cares only about winning. Every coach would like to have an entire team of guys like him. Kenyon comes from one of the top high school programs in the country at Simeon.”
Chicago Simeon head coach Robert Smith praised Kenyon Smith’s ability to play both the point guard and shooting guard positions.
“Kenyon played major minutes last year, but he played more off the ball at the two-guard position,” said Smith. “He definitely knows how to play the point guard position. It was beneficial for Kenyon to play at the two guard spot last year because it helped him focus on his perimeter jump shot. He has a great understanding of the game and knows where the basketball needs to be on the floor at the right time. Kenyon is going to be an absolute asset to our program this season, and I think he is going to be key in helping Illinois State get to the next level.”
Smith was attracted to ISU due to its offensive system, and the fact that he would be given the opportunity to play both the one and two-guard positions.
“I’ve played both the one and two-guard positions here (Chicago Simeon), so I feel comfortable in both roles. The main thing that stuck out to me about Illinois State in the recruiting process was their style of play. They set a lot of ball screens, and that is something I love to do. They find ways to create offense in their system.”