For quite some time now it feels like the Illinois fanbase has heard two names: Okoro and Liddell. Illini fans set their sights on the these two forwards to stay home and be the big men of the future. But with Okoro’s commitment to Oregon and potential reclassification that leaves only Liddell’s name up on the board for Brad Underwood in 2019.
The southern Illinois native is the state’s returning Mr. Basketball, listed as a four-star forward by 247Sports.com’s composite ranking, and the 61st best player in his class.
Standing at 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, Liddell would come in as the team’s third biggest player, only behind Giorgi and Samba in height. He would add immediate frontcourt depth, a large area of concern right now for Brad Underwood and the staff.
With just two players on the current roster over 6-foot-6 — both of whom are freshmen with zero college experience — it could make last year’s dismal season look like a cake walk. Now that won’t be the case. Underwood and the staff will have Samba and Giorgi as close to Big Ten ready as possible when the conference schedule rolls around. Samba will turn some heads for Illini fans this winter, but there will certainly be growing pains.
Now let’s take a look at some film.
There’s a lot to take away and like from Liddell’s game, and it’s easy to see why he’s one of the top prospects. He talked a lot about how the Illini used Leron Black in their system last season. Black isn’t an ideal fit for how Underwood wants to run offenses, but he played to his strengths and made a name for himself this year.
Liddell would be a better fit for how the Illini want to do things. He handles the ball really well for a guy his size. His ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim is an underrated aspect of his game. Liddell can also knock shots down from out on the arc, so he’s not just limited to one role in a system. Kipper Nichols will play a similar role this season to what E.J. could potentially play for the Illini.
Defensively, he does a great job of altering shots at the rim. He’s not one of the typical trees you’d find down on the block, but he’s athletic and uses his long arms to give opposing drivers fits. If he wants to continue playing the stretch four position in college and guarding big men, he’d have to put on more muscle, but his frame and skillset are a great start.
Underwood currently has three open scholarships to fill heading into the 2018-19 season. Dima Zdor has been a name circulating the Illini rumor mill, along with a couple graduate transfers, but as of yet, nothing substantial.
If Underwood fails to add any newcomers to this year’s incoming class, Aaron Jordan will graduate, and he’ll turn to the 2019’s looking to bring four guys into the program. Whitney and Liddell are two of the top names to watch over the coming months, but Cuonzo Martin and Mizzou will do everything in their power to get Liddell in Columbia.
But E.J. Liddell should be at the top of the to-do list for BU and Co.