CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It’s time for some fresh faces in Champaign. The early signing period that starts every second Wednesday of November kicked off Wednesday for the Class of 2020 — and Illinois Baseball and Men’s Basketball got some early signatures.
Andre Curbelo signs with Illinois
Brad Underwood signed his third straight top-100 recruit with his first signee: 6-foot point guard from Long Island, Andre Curbelo. Originally from Puerto Rico, Curbelo transferred to Long Island (N.Y. ) Lutheran High School (a basketball powerhouse) to pursue his basketball career. Curbelo drew high praise from his future head coach, who compared him to legendary point guard Steve Nash.
“Without question [Curbelo is] the best passing guard in the country,” Underwood said. “I’ve compared him to Steve Nash in terms of his abilities in ball screens, his abilities to make his teammates better and he has the ability to raise the level of everybody he is on the floor with.”
Underwood stressed the ability to build relationships with recruits early and sustaining those relationships after getting top commits Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn in the past two classes.
“Recruiting is about building relationships,” Underwood said. “Building those relationships with Andre has taken a few years, and that why we are able to get a guy like that.”
Coleman Hawkins, Underwood’s other current commit in the 2020 recruiting class, has yet to sign with Illinois. Underwood’s next target in the 2020 class Adam Miller is set to commit on Nov. 21.
Orlando Antigua leads the way on the recruiting trail
Underwood stressed the impact that assistant coach Orlando Antigua has had on the recruiting trail. Antigua has been with Underwood’s coaching staff from the vary start in Champaign recruiting high profile guys like Kofi Cockburn.
“When you go someplace with Orlando,” Underwood said. “He knows everybody. He’s got a reputation and likeness that is very seldom seen.”
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Antigua joined the Harlem Globetrotters for seven years. After leaving the Globetrotters, Antigua bounced around jobs at his alma mater under head coach Jamie Dixon. Antigua would later end up spending some time studying under Kentucky head coach John Calipari as an assistant coach.
“He knows a lot of people in his profession from all walks of life and in all parts of the world because of mainly his Globetrotter experience but from the places he’s been,” Underwood said. “Those connections allow you to get players, we call that having a hook. Orlando has a lot of hooks because of how popular he is and how well he’s liked.”
It’s no question where Antigua’s recruiting acumen comes from. Whether it’s his time traveling the world or his time under legendary recruiter Calipari, Underwood is lucky to have a guy like Antigua.
Illini Baseball signs a local prospect
Dan Hartleb was excited when Illinois signed local talent Connor Milton. The star outfielder hails from Champaign Central.
“The local talent can be tricky. I love having players from the state of Illinois,” Hartleb said. “When you come to the local level if things go well you get a lot of attention. If things don’t go well you get a lot of attention.”
Hartleb has been able to watch Milton progress over the years as a part of the Champaign community. The relationship between Milton and Hartleb goes farther back than people may think.
“One thing that people don’t know was that he dated my daughter for a while,” Hartleb said. “During the time that we were recruiting him we had one phone conversation and the rest of that was done by the assistants to keep that clean.”
Local talent has worked out for Hartleb in the past. Redshirt-sophomore Kellen Sarver, who had a breakout year last season, hails from Champaign Centennial. Sarver batted .269 with a near-perfect fielding percentage last season for the Illini to work his way to the cleanup hitter at the end of the year.
“It was an interesting recruiting process, Connor’s a good person,” Hartleb said. “He’s not dating my daughter anymore which I’m glad. That makes things a lot easier.”