The number of departures for the Illinois Fighting Illini this offseason is now at two as junior forward Leron Black will be leaving the program with aspirations of playing professional basketball.
Black was one of the few bright spots for the Illini this season, leading the team in scoring (15.2 points per game), field goal percentage (54.7 percent) and three-point field goal percentage (51.2 percent).
Black was the second domino to fall after freshman guard Mark Smith announced that he is transferring from the program.
With Black gone, Illinois will be severely deprived at the forward position next year if it can not bring in any recruits or transfers.
Junior Michael Finke, sophomore Kipper Nichols, and freshmen Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel are the only viable options at forward that are still on the roster. Junior Aaron Jordan can sometimes drop down to a forward position, but that is not the ideal spot you really want him at.
So, if there wasn’t pressure on Underwood before to bring in more talent then what he already has this offseason, then it’s certainly on now.
And let’s just get this out of the way: You cannot blame Black for leaving and wanting to go pro. He just had his best season yet with the Illini and his value is at an all-time high. If there was an opportunity to go pro, now would be the time with him just graduating.
Plus, why spend another year playing collegiate basketball, bringing in nothing financially and risking a serious injury that could possibly keep you from playing professional basketball after that season?
Black is making the decision that he feels is best for him right now and, no one can judge him for that unless they are literally in his shoes.
Now that that’s over with, let’s jump back over to recruiting. It needs to happen, and certainly a lot more of it this offseason.
The first person that should be on Underwood’s list is power forward Austin Trice. Trice is an athletic 6-foot-7 power forward out of Wabash Valley College and averaged 12.8 points and 12 rebounds per game. This ranked Trice fourth out of the all junior college players in rebounds per game.
He is also the eighth-ranked junior college player in the country, second-ranked power forward, and the top player in the state of Illinois.
Trice also has offers from Kansas State, New Mexico and Washington State, but he is considered to be heavily favoring Illinois as of right now, according to 247sports.
While he is no where near the offensive scoring threat that Black was, Trice is a monster on the glass and can certainly compensate, and then some, for Black in that department.
The person that is going to have to really blossom next season is Nichols. Nichols will be the player that the Illini will be looking at to try and take over a majority of Black’s scoring load. And Nichols showed flashes of this when he scored 27 points against Michigan State earlier this season and 31 points in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Nichols’ only issue as of right now is his consistency, so that will be a large factor for him when determining how his season will go.
Losing Smith hurts because of the amount of potential he possesses, but losing Black hurts because he is what Illinois needs right now to be successful next year. A combination of new and old guys will have to compensate for Black’s loss this upcoming season.