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Brad Underwood talks before Illinois, EIU exhibition

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The Illinois head coach still thinks there is room for improvement before the season’s start.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood and his team are set to face off against Eastern Illinois on Friday in an exhibition game to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief funds.

Underwood said the game will not “totally” be treated as an actual game. He said in segments it will be like a real game, but he is more concerned with guys getting minutes.

Underwood on his team’s “secret” scrimmages

The Illini participated in two “secret” scrimmages during the past couple of weeks — one against Indiana State and the other against Vanderbilt. Underwood said these scrimmages have been very important for his team so far.

“We gained a lot in the secret scrimmages,” Underwood said. “I’m a huge fan of them. For this group, it was their first time against a different jersey, and I think it was important for our freshmen to see what a college atmosphere is like.”

Underwood also said there were many positives from these scrimmages, and that there were several teaching moments his team was able to take away from them.

The Illini’s strengths so far

Underwood said he is very impressed with the conditioning of his team after the scrimmages. He also liked the depth of his team.

The first-year head coach praised junior forwards Michael Finke and Leron Black for their performances.

“They’ve been very, very good and have been pretty consistent,” Underwood said.

Defensively, Illinois has gotten better, which has been Underwood’s biggest concern in the offseason. He thinks building defensive chemistry is one of the hardest things to develop on the court.

Underwood said his biggest positive from his two secret scrimmages has been his team’s performance on the boards.

“I’ve been very pleased with what we have done on the glass,” Underwood said. “I will never be satisfied with that. We can score more points on offensive rebounds, we could go harder; those create a lot of positives for us, and extra possessions is something I’m very, very big on.”

He also called for his perimeter players to get more involved in the rebounding department as well.

Underwood did cite some consistency issues with the team so far and sophomore guard Te’Jon Lucas said the team needs to work on their overall communication.

Te’Jon Lucas is fully healthy and ready to go

After suffering a concussion during an Oct. 1 practice, Lucas is finally ready to get back on the court, and he feels that he is not playing any catch up to get back in the groove of things.

Lucas said this was the first time he has sustained a concussion and it was definitely a new experience for him.

“Never had a concussion, never knew what it felt like,” Lucas said. “It was crazy, I was wondering when it’s going to be over with. It’s crazy to have to wear sunglasses for a couple days because the light was messing with my eye. I took the sunglasses off a couple times and I would have a headache.”

As the only true freshman on the roster last year, Lucas was the most inexperienced player on the team and had to evolve into his role. This season is no different as he is adjusting into a new system.

“As a leadership role, I’ve definitely had to improve on that,” Lucas said. “Improve on shooting, being a threat to the offense is key for this year because we play positionless.”

@ETFisher24