When one door closes, another one opens.
And it seems for the Illinois Basketball team this offseason, a lot of doors have been closing in the form of roster changes. With all of the transfers presumably done, there are only four Illini from last year’s team that will remain wearing the Orange and Blue.
Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, Aaron Jordan and Kipper Nichols.
But with classes starting back up in Champaign, these four are no longer alone. Most of the incoming class is beginning to arrive on campus and is looking to add to head coach Brad Underwood’s young team.
One of those incoming freshmen has some other business to take care of, however, before he arrives at the University of Illinois.
Before he starts his journey with the Illini, guard Ayo Dosunmu is giving people a preview of what’s to come in central Illinois with the USA U-18 basketball team.
The guard from Morgan Park made the team by doing the intangibles on the basketball court, and he showed off skillset in Team USA’s first game against the Dominican Republic on June 10.
In 16 minutes of action Dosunmu scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, while dishing out four assists, collecting two rebounds and impressing his future head coach.
“I thought he was the MVP of the game,” Underwood said. “I thought he changed the outcome of the game. The ball didn’t stick with him.
“Defensively, I was extremely impressed. His ball pressure without fouling was off the chart, his instincts were great. We saw a little bit of him finishing, but I thought he was a guy — when he was in the game — who changed the makeup of the game and the tempo of the game.”
Dosunmu followed up the first game with another strong showing in the team’s 118-26 stomping of Panama on June 11. He scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, recorded five assists, two rebounds, one steal and one block in 18 minutes.
In his game against Puerto Rico on June 12, Dosunmu had another solid game with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, five assists and two rebounds in 16 minutes — a game in Underwood attended.
The versatile Tevian Jones
Standing at 6-foot-7 with pretty good length and athleticism, Jones seems to fit the ideal mold for the positionless style of basketball that Underwood is trying to install this season.
And it seems that Underwood and his staff are wasting no time experimenting with the forward from Culver City, California, tinkering with a possible lineup that has Jones playing the power forward position and Nichols playing center.
At only 200 pounds, the weight difference may be the issue with the opposition at that position for him. But in today’s game, Jones’ height can potentially allow him to get away with playing the four.
Jones’ guard skills are also making a mark on Underwood.
“He’s so versatile,” Underwood said. “Here’s a guy that’s 6-foot-7, has tremendous length, played the point a lot for his high school team, I think that helped him. It might have brought his point numbers down a little bit, but in the long run it’s made him a better player. Tevian is a guy with great vision, and he’s a very, very good passer.
“Everybody talks about his shooting and his ability to make baskets, but I think just as importantly he’s got athleticism that allows him to finish at the rim, and he’s got just tremendous court-vision that allows other players to be better.”
When asked if Jones’ previous experience at point guard would allow him to play the 1-4 positions, Underwood responded with saying, “I see him playing a lot of spots,” which he then said is what trying to get towards with his style of basketball.
“Were trying to get to positionless (basketball) and I think (Jones’) versatility allows him to guard a lot of spots,” Underwood said. “I think his length allows him to guard a lot of spots and then obviously being more comfortable in playing the point, you can put him in ball screens. His versatility is something that is a nice luxury.”
Skillset wanted in potential frontcourt recruit
With the amount of size this current roster has — or lack thereof — it’s a pretty safe bet that Underwood is out looking to add another piece in the frontcourt for this upcoming season.
While college basketball is shifting more toward a positionless style, still having someone with size who is willing to bang down low is essential on any team. Giorgi Bezhanishvili being a guy who averaged 2.6 rebounds in the Austrian League last season might not be someone that can help the Illini in that department.
To his credit, Bezhanishvili has good size — he’s close to 6-foot-10, 230 pounds — and Underwood did say he is physically strong. But with the amount of size there is in the Big Ten, it wouldn’t necessarily be a hot take to say Bezhanishvili may struggle to adjust in the paint on both ends of the court.
So what exactly is Underwood looking for out of this potential last piece of the puzzle for the 2018-19 season?
“I think we always look for somebody that could score,” Underwood said. “We always look for somebody that can expand.”
Underwood then used Boston Celtics big man Aron Baynes as an example for what he wants.
“People don’t understand, and I use Boston’s Baynes, settling in the corner all night because he can shoot threes and the way we play with an open post, finding guys who can step out and make shots, that means the tag’s longer when somebody does roll to the rim, you have further to go,” Underwood said. “Finding guys that can make baskets, finding guys who can spread the floor, finding guys that can guard multiple guys in ball screens.
“I think a guy of size that can step out and shoot it would be a nice attribute.”
Since fans obviously know more than the coaches, what kind of skillset are you looking for from this frontcourt recruit the Illini are trying to add this offseason?