The 2017 Illinois basketball recruiting class was a rollercoaster ride to say the least. From the welcome and departure of He Who Must Not Be Named to Tom Izzo’s last second antics to try and win over Mark Smith to the late signings of Matic Vesel and Greg Eboigbodin, this year’s class was far from boring. But after the firing of John Groce, a couple decommits, and the arrival of a guy named Underwood from Oklahoma State, it came down to five: Mark Smith, Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, Matic Vesel, and Greg Eboigbodin. But how is this crew faring in their first season of college basketball?
We’ll start with Mark Smith, the guy who spearheaded this class and the biggest signing. Any time the Illini can get Mr. Basketball to stay home, there’s going to be talk and excitement. In Brad Underwood’s first test at the helm of this Illinois program, he secured Smith in a battle with heavyweights like Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, and others. Smith is holding averages of 8.6 points per game, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. That being said, production from Smith after the first five games has been virtually nonexistent. His shooting woes have continued (22.9 percent from three-point range), and it is obvious we aren’t getting the same Mark Smith that we saw during the Global Sports Invitational. Competition has become a bit stiffer, but this is not a reason for Illinois fans to panic. This is just the first 13 games of his very, very young career. Once he begins to put the pieces together, there isn’t a team in the conference that’s safe from the buckets Mark Smith is capable of getting.
No recruit voiced their love and support of Illini nation more than Trent Frazier. The four-star point guard from Florida has really come on strong for the Illini in the past several games. Over the last three, he’s averaging 16 points, including 20 in a career-high effort against Longwood, three steals, and he’s shooting 44 percent from behind the arc. Frazier is not short in the confidence category either. Whether it be his energy on the court, or finding and dancing for the cameras pre-game, Trent provides a much needed swagger to this Illinois team.
Da’Monte Williams flew under the radar after tearing his ACL just three games into his senior season, but he is another four-star guard and top-100 recruit that the Illini landed. He has added solid, fairly quiet minutes for the Illini so far, and if Brad Underwood has a favorite on the team, it’s got to be Williams.
Underwood said he trusts Da'Monte Williams. The other freshmen must "get better."— Jeremy Werner (@JWerner247) December 2, 2017
#Illini Underwood: (Da'Monte Williams) He has IT— Erich Fisher (@ETFisher24) November 16, 2017
Underwood has spoken highly of his freshman guard, and it looks as if Williams has all the intangibles. He hasn’t done anything to “WOW” you away, but he does all the little things right.
The two late additions to the 2017 class, Eboigbodin and Vesel, are still very raw and they aren’t quite ready for high-level Big Ten basketball yet, but we’ve seen flashes that should lead us to believe these two could be impact players in a couple seasons. Eboigbodin has stepped in and provided quality minutes for the Illini already this season, and he’s only been playing organized basketball for four years. They are both projects for Strength Coach for Adam Fletcher, but he’s one of the best in the business. Vesel is going through quite the transition right now. He missed the summer with Fletcher, so it’ll be interesting to see what Coach Fletcher can do with him after a full off-season.
What Brad didn't add is that Matic Vesel is trying to remake his body during this season. That's rare. A coach pointed to him in shootaround and said, "That has to be tough. Fletch crushed him today in the weight room. He can barely raise his arms." He's dealing with a lot. https://t.co/fDMGnE7SYM— Mark Tupper (@MarkTupper) December 14, 2017
Overall, it’s been an up and down start to the year for not just the freshmen, but the team as a whole. Underwood is tasked with the challenge of changing the culture of this Illinois program, trying to coach, and recruit at the same time. The non-conference season is coming to an end, but don’t be shocked when guys like Frazier, Smith, and Williams continue to make an impact come Big Ten play.