ROSEMONT, Ill. — Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood was the last to take the podium Thursday morning at Big Ten Media Day, but when his time came after the 13 coaches and league commissioner Jim Delany, he had high praise for his guys and the new season.
“I think we’re developing an identity,” the second year coach said. “That’s something we’ve strived very hard for... This is the toughest schedule in the history of Illinois Basketball.”
Tough, indeed. The Illini will square off against Georgetown as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games series, travel to South Bend to play Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and also take part in the annual Maui Invitational for the first time since 2012, when they won the tournament.
“This is the youngest team I’ve been a part of since I was a junior college coach and had a team of all freshmen every year,” Underwood said. “It’s brought a youthful exuberance to our practices.”
Illinois returns just four guys from last year’s squad, including All-Big Ten Freshman selection, Trent Frazier. As a sophomore, he’s one of the most experienced players on the roster already, and he will be looked upon to lead a team of mostly newcomers.
Trent and the Backcourt
“The one thing that Trent has done is accepted some of the things that he didn’t do well,” Underwood said. “He’s allowed us to coach him. He’s gotten better. There’s no secret, he was a left-hand-dominant player last year. Now he’s just as good going right.
“We asked him to step up his leadership role. He has done that. He’s a guy that is all about winning. Trent’s got a big job. He’s going to be at the top of everybody’s scouting report. That will be a little different role for him. But he’s up to the challenge. I’m excited for his sophomore year.”
Frazier will be joined in the backcourt by one of the best freshman guards in the nation, Ayo Dosunmu. Dosunmu, a local kid from Morgan Park, led his high school team to two state championships, and even solidified himself a lockdown defender for the USA U18 National Team this summer.
“[Ayo’s] a different guy,” Underwood said. “I say that, and you talk about a committed, dedicated worker, a guy who loves basketball. He’s a two-time state champion, and he’s fearless. He’s everything that I would have hoped him to be and more. He’s selfless. He knows he’s a good basketball player, but an elite passer, great teammate. He always has an encouraging word. He’s developing slowly I think into what we’ll see, by some point this year, an elite leader. He does that just by example and his ability.”
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