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Illinois Basketball Player Preview: Andre Curbelo

The sky is the limit for the freshman PG.

Basketball is in Andre Curbelo’s blood. His father was an Olympian, and his aunt also played for Puerto Rico’s national team. So this season, if it looks like he’s played basketball his whole life, it’s because he has.

What He Did Last Year

Curbelo played his high school basketball at Long Island Lutheran (LuHi), and to say he dominated would be an understatement. His senior season, he averaged 16.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 3.6 steals per game. And LuHi was one of the top 10 prep teams in the country, so it’s not like he just played weak competition. Putting up those sorts of numbers against the best teams in the country is just absurd. After the season, Curbelo ranked 45th in consensus rankings (RSCI) of the 2020 class, and even that seems low.

What to Expect

Curbelo is a true point guard in every way, both good and bad. He was an elite passer at LuHi, and he should be able to step in and run the Illini offense from day one. His ability to operate off the ball, however, is more of a question mark. He never showed great shooting touch in high school, and that will become an issue if he is unable to space the floor.

As a recruit, the big knock on him was his size. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, he is on the small side, even for a point guard, so he may be somewhat of a liability on defense. Size hasn’t stopped Trent Frazier from becoming a plus defender though, so maybe Curbelo can develop defensively in a few years.

Long term, Illini fans should be excited about Curbelo’s talent as a passer and as a ball-handler. Check out the plays at 0:54 and 2:24 below.

In the first play, he splits the double team, then finds the open man on the baseline for a wide open dunk. In the second, he again splits the double team, but this time he drops it off to the roll man for an easy bucket.

But now watch the play at 0:34. This is another pick and roll, but this time the screener’s defender recovers quickly to his man to take away the passing lane. Curbelo then just takes it himself and finishes at the rim with soft touch.

As we can see from those plays, Curbelo is insanely talented as a point guard, and I’m giddy just thinking about him running our offense for the next four (or with the COVID eligibility rule, maybe even five) years.

While Curbelo is definitely the point guard of the future, I don’t think we’ll see him run the point a ton this year. The Illini have an embarrassment of riches at the guard position, and there are only so many minutes available. I expect he’ll play about 15 minutes a game, most likely sharing ball-handling duties with Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu. Instead, I’ll be closely watching his progress as a defender, shooter, and also as a cutter as in the 2:07 mark above.

Brad Underwood has a knack for finding and developing talent, and his recruits tend to outperform expectations. Ayo Dosunmu was ranked 32nd as a recruit, and he made first team all-conference by his sophomore season. Kofi Cockburn was ranked 43rd, and he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Andre Curbelo was ranked 45th. If recent history tells us anything, Andre Curbelo could be special.