The Illini posted a 3-1 record on their foreign tour of Italy last week. Underwood’s group rolled in the first three contests before dropping the final game to the Netherlands B Team on Friday.
The trip got off to a rocky start with Andres Feliz and Kofi Cockburn being left behind in the United States due to visa issues. Jamall Walker stayed behind for a few days to sort through whatever logistical issues the team and players had going on. It seemed like there was a possibility for Feliz and Cockburn to rejoin mid-trip, but that never came to fruition.
The scholarship players available for the trip included Dosunmu, Frazier, Williams, Griffin, Jones, Nichols and Bezshanishvili.
Game 1: 118-56 Win vs. CUS Insubria
Ayo and Giorgi led the way shooting 20-of-28 from the field to help the Illini shoot a blistering 60 percent. This was an instance where the opponent was overmatched in every conceivable way, but we got a cool Giorgi dunk highlight out of it.
Game 2: Win 112-63 vs. Gazzada All Stars
This was the Alan Griffin game. Griffin impressed at an open scrimmage earlier in the offseason with his activity and versatility. The sophomore poured in 31 points on 12-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-5 from three. Griffin also grabbed 8 rebounds after leading the team with 11 in game one. The effort, instincts and skill were all on display for Griffin during game two.
The Illini were desperate for wing production and shooting last season. If Alan Griffin can take a sophomore leap and grab the starting SF position, that could raise this team’s ceiling quite a bit.
If there are any takeaways to be had from this offseason, one is that there is reason for optimism around Griffin’s potential.
Game 3: Win 107-74 vs. Livorno All Stars
The competition took a step up for game three but the Illini were up to the task and pulled away for a 30-point victory. Ayo Dosunmu climbed back to the top of the stat sheet but Tevian Jones also stepped up and had his best game of the tour. Even though he struggled from three, Jones still put up 16 points and also led the team with 10 rebounds.
And there hasn’t been an Illini who can do this in a long, long time.
Here is the Illinois box from tonight’s 107-74 win over the Livorno All-Stars as the Illini improve to 3-0 on the tour. Final game tomorrow at Noon CT vs. The Netherlands National B Team. #IlliniInItaly pic.twitter.com/pIdWLurN9D— Illinois Basketball (@IlliniMBB) August 9, 2019
Game 4: Loss 82-72 vs. Netherlands B Team
The Illini lost the final leg of their tour to the Dutch B Team. The Illini also lost to the Netherlands national team on their foreign tour four years ago. It would have been sunshine and rainbows if the Illini could have walked away with a 4-0 record, but it was not to be.
It was their fourth game in five days in a gym that was reportedly 95 degrees, so it was a relief that the entire team walked away healthy under those conditions.
Ayo once again led the way with 27 points while shooting 12-of-13 from the free throw stripe. In order for Ayo to take the next step as a scorer he is going to have to do a good chunk of his damage at the free throw line. The team struggled from the three point line and the defense struggled against the best competition they had seen on the trip.
Wins and losses really aren’t important at this point and this isn’t even the same roster that we will se in the fall. It’s important that they got out and played a team wearing different jerseys and bond on a trip of a lifetime.
A trip like this breaks up the mundane workouts and practice sessions that can make the offseason seem like a long slog.
Winning isn’t everything, the real prize is the friends you make along the way.