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Utah basketball: Utes land commitment from 2017 four-star forward Donnie Tillman

Published February 1, 2017 10:51 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In Utah basketball's drive to become more athletic on the wings, they've pursued a 2017 forward relentlessly. One of his highlight tapes shows why: Donnie Tillman's first seven clips are dunks.

The 6-foot-7 explosive wing gave Utah's recruiting a jolt when he committed on Wednesday morning amid the furor of the football Signing Day circus. But it would be hard to value Tillman's commitment any less than the athletes who signed on Wednesday — he's expected to be a dynamic forward who can play right away.

"How do they see me? Do they see me making an impact?" Tillman said of his criteria. "I think they can take my game to the next level there. There's no way you won't be better than the day before."

Utah has two signees already from in-state: Bingham forward Branden Carlson and Ridgeline guard Jaxon Brenchley. But both will be serving LDS Church missions and arriving in 2019 — Utah needs to add players in the class who can join this summer.

Tillman is a third-year player at the renowned Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, a talent-producing factory that's been a tough nut for Utah to crack. Alums such as Dillon Brooks, Allonzo Trier and Nigel Williams-Goss have starred in the Pac-12 and often played some of their best games against the Utes.

Averaging 15.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and shooting 65 percent for the Pilots against some of the nation's best competition, Tillman expects himself to follow a similar career arc as those standouts.

A four-star ESPN prospect, Tillman figures to play either at the three or four spot — he has the versatility for either.

"I just try to do what comes naturally for me," he said. "I can play from the perimeter or post up. But you can't really have a 6-foot-10 or 6-foot-11 guy try to guard me."

The Utes have been on Tillman for a while. He visited during the non-conference schedule when Utah played Butler, and the atmosphere at the Huntsman Center piqued his interest despite the loss.

He also connected well with coach Larry Krystkowiak, the two bonding over their competitiveness. At one point on his visit, he played Krystkowiak one-on-one.

"He didn't back down," Tillman said. "He said it was taking him back to his pro days."

That pro experience is something Tillman sought as he looks to grow his game. It's the same kind of ambition that led him to move to Las Vegas as a sophomore with his mother from his hometown of Detroit. He came with "just driving to the rim and nothing else" and has developed a jump shot, a tenacity on the boards and an ability to finish.

Findlay Prep's environment simulates the college game. Tillman isn't expecting many surprises when he joins Utah — he's hoping for a similar success that Utah's last prep school commit Devon Daniels has enjoyed as a frosh.

The Michigan connection is meaningful, too.

"Knowing Kyle, we've had a pretty good relationship — he's like an older brother," he said. "It's just nice to know there's a lot of Michigan guys and there's gonna be some Michigan guys there, too."

Tillman was planning on visiting Cal, but he canceled the trip. He also had reported offers from USC, Virginia Tech and Iowa State among others.

He said the decision was becoming clear over the weekend, and his mother advised him to sit with it for two days. Wednesday morning, when the two days were up, he called Krystkowiak.

"He was elated: He said he couldn't wait, and was screaming 'Yeah!'" Tillman said. "It's a big load off my shoulders. I can really focus on my future. I know exactly where I'm going and what I'm getting into."

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