It appears as if Brad Underwood has all but locked up his 2018 class after his press conference Wednesday. The head coach is about to enter his sophomore season with the team, bringing in six recruits with him. Our own Erich Fisher recapped Underwood’s presser here.
Illinois addressed the one major concern with last year’s team: length. The Illini were outsized in almost every game last year, resulting in a lackluster conference season. Samba Kane and Giorgi Bezhanishvili will look to fill the void down low after the departures of forwards Michael Finke and Leron Black. Underwood & Co. also brought in wings Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin, guys who will instantly add some height to a vertically depleted position for the team. And then, top the class off with lead guards Andres Feliz and Ayo Dosunmu.
So what’s next for the Illini? Who does Underwood and the staff go after in 2019? And what areas of concern need to be addressed?
The staff will hit the recruiting trail this summer with these things in mind: more depth at the wing position and proven big men.
As of right now, there is one open scholarship left heading into next season. For the sake of this article, we’ll assume it doesn’t get taken, but the possibility that Underwood brings in a graduate big man is definitely still there. He said at his press conference Wednesday that class balance is a thing of the past. There’s also a chance that we still see a transfer this offseason. That leaves the team with one, maybe two open spots going into next season and another opening up when Aaron Jordan graduates. If I had to guess, the staff will try to bring in three recruits from the 2019 class.
Francis Okoro has been a name traveling around the Illini grapevine, but there’s been talk of him reclassifying and Oregon has made a strong push at the Bloomington-Normal star. Illinois Mr. Basketball, E.J. Liddell, has also been on the wish list, but it feels like the downstate native is leaning to Cuonzo Martin’s Mizzou program. The Illini have also been involved with a pair of top-50 wings, Kahlil Whitney and Malik Hall.
These are just a few names that have passed through the rumor mill, and we’re sure to see a couple more pop up over the course of the next few months. The 2018 AAU season is just getting underway. There will be guys who improve their stock and pop up on the team’s radar, and there will be others that drop off after let down performances (see: Tim Finke).
Tevian Jones, Griffin and Nichols will be the only true wings on the roster after next season. Although the future is promising with Jones and Griffin, neither have stepped foot on a college floor before, and no one can say for certain they’ll both pan out. Underwood will try to pull in at least one other wing in next year’s class. More than likely a tall, athletic guy with a sweet stroke from behind the arc.
Frontcourt depth is also key to success moving forward in the program. Samba Kane is an extremely underrated player coming into next season. He has all the tools and raw intangibles that you could want in a modern day big, and his offensive game is commendable. He’s a guy with Nnanna Egwu-like upside on the defensive end, and he might already be more advanced offensively. But guys like Kane, Bezhanishvili, Vesel and Spicy G are projects. They’ve been under the radar, high-risk, high-reward guys that we aren’t sure will pay off yet. So far, the staff is 1-for-2 with a couple more gambles coming in. The new staff has been here for a year now, and this is when we will start to see those relationships with promising, top-tier underclassmen pay off.
With such a large class coming in and an another crucial summer looming, the staff is primed for another top-20 ranked class, hopefully comprised of more big men.