While Illinois was playing its last regular season game at Rutgers and finishing up at Madison Square Garden, Brad Underwood and staff were making the most out of the talent-rich New York Metropolitan area. They got out to Westchester to land Alan Griffin, then took a trip through Hillside, New Jersey, to watch Valdir Manuel.
But this article isn’t about Valdir Manuel, because, while scouting a big man in the Garden State, Underwood and assistant Orlando Antigua fell in love with a player from Austria named Giorgi Bezhanishvili.
Bezhanishvili has very little film, and most of it isn’t game film, but what does exist online is the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward from The Patrick School showing off a slick handle and advanced skill set for a man of such stature. As he weaves in and out of obstacles, it’s hard not to understand what Underwood saw on that fateful February day, but then again, those obstacles don’t guard back and they aren’t recruited to the Big Ten.
For Giorgi B., it’s going to take some time, but the end game is obvious. Rather than watching a big man catch the ball in the pinch post and not have the sand or talent to take a jab step, fake the ball handoff and then take it strong to the rim, Underwood is hoping Bez can initiate and capitalize on one of his offense’s most dangerous actions.
Along with his plus ball handling and passing ability, the big lefty has some developing range. I don’t think Giorgi B. is a consistent enough outside shooter that Illinois would be happy with him hanging around the three-point line and chucking, but he’s got a nice stroke and is fully capable of extending and being respected by the defense.
In a recent article, I compared Giorgi Bezhanishvili’s game to Boris Diaw, and that’s exactly how he could best be utilized at Illinois. From the small amount of film available, or the Patrick game reruns I’m treated to on Verizon Fios, it doesn’t appear he’s ever going to be a big defensive presence or plus rebounder — he currently just doesn’t have the temperament. But, he could be an incredibly dangerous offensive weapon once he gets used to play in America, develops his generous frame and understands where to best utilize his skills in Champaign.
What should we expect from Bezhanishvili in 2018-19? Probably a little more than we saw from Matic Vesel this past season. Hopefully he’ll have a few more flashes, but with Giorgi, the Illini staff is playing the long game, hoping that when they’re truly ready to compete for Big Ten Championships and tournament runs, they’ve got a unique offensive asset.