When a new coach takes over, they tend to make some personnel changes. I get that.
But the pace at which the Illini basketball roster has seen players come and go since the 2016-17 season has been nothing short of breathtaking. We can (and probably will) question the value of these changes all offseason. Does Brad Underwood now have the roster he needs to take the next step? Or has the upheaval just been a symptom of a broken system? No one has the answers, and only time will truly tell. But a little bit of perspective can show just how drastically the locker room has changed over the past two years, for better or for worse.
The only two scholarship players on the roster today who were also on the roster in John Groce’s final season are Aaron Jordan and Kipper Nichols. Since the end of that season, a total of *nine* scholarship players have transferred out of the program. Six of them played under Groce, and three more were recruited by Underwood and left after last season. All of those players could still be playing at Illinois today, and the players could form a rather formidable hypothetical roster if grouped together.
At the end of the 2016 season, Illini fans were probably expecting to see a 2018-19 starting lineup of Te’Jon Lucas, Jalen Coleman-Lands, DJ Williams, Leron Black and Jeremiah Tilmon. Instead, we’re looking at (I guess) Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Tevian Jones, Kipper Nichols and Samba Kane. A few months ago — and prior to their respective departures — I would’ve even added Mark Smith and Greg Eboigbodin to that list of likely 2018 starters.
Over the past two years, Groce’s inability to recruit a point guard has transformed into two legitimate All-Big Ten contenders at the position. Over that same period of time, relative stability in the frontcourt has transformed into only four players on the roster over 6-foot-6, none of whom have ever played a college basketball game before (until the Illini picked up Adonis De La Rosa on Monday).
Illini fans can debate all they like about what the future holds, but one of the few indisputable facts about this program is that this roster has truly been transformed.