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Illinois Basketball Player Preview: Giorgi Bezhanishvili

What will the native Georgian’s role be this season?

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This 2020-21 basketball season looks to be an exciting one for Illini fans. With so many returning players and exciting newcomers, Brad Underwood and Co. has the envious problem of working out a rotation with such quality depth, both talent and experience wise.

The team could see an added boost if Giorgi can return to his freshman season form. It was evident that the Rustavi, Georgia, native struggled to adjust to the position change brought on by the presence of Kofi Cockburn last season. It forced him into a stretch four role last season, which didn’t suit his strengths rooted in energy plays and operating on the block.

With the influx of new talent and eligibility of versatile transfers Jacob Grandison and Austin Hutcherson, Giorgi’s role is even more uncertain this season, but his value to this Illini squad is undeniable. The Illini are better when Giorgi is making his mark with energy, rebounding and playmaking that we saw in his freshman campaign. Hopefully, Underwood can find a way to better blend his talents into the rotation without forcing him into a role outside his skillset and comfort zone.

What to Expect

Look for Giorgi to continue where he left off at the end of last season as the backup center with Kofi Cockburn back in the fold. As always, the rotation is likely to be fluid early on and likely more so this season, given the truncated season with no preseason exhibitions or early season tournaments. Giorgi can solidify more playing time if he plays to his strengths with quality defensive play and hustle plays to generate energy for his team. That emotional leadership, especially now as an junior, will be critically important in keeping the team together through the dog days of a rugged Big Ten schedule.

As opposed to the low-percentage three-point shots that Giorgi was launching last season, where he hit just 11 of 36 tries, the junior will get back to operating in the high post as an alternate playmaking force for the likes of Ayo cutting to the basket and in high/low actions with Kofi. Giorgi’s best games involve him operating in the high or low post and finding opportunities for others.

Given the influx of shooting that’s expected from this year’s team with Miller, Hutcherson and others, there will be more opportunities for Giorgi to find cutters, post-ups, and set perimeter shooters to keep this Illini offense humming. Defensively, while he’s not the shot blocking force that Kofi is, Giorgi should provide quality length and energy inside, keeping the Illini interior formidable with or without Kofi in the game. Energy plays with loose balls and contested rebounding are where Giorgi can really make his mark on this end.

There’s plenty to be excited about with this Illini team. Underwood has a tough task ahead in figuring out how to best use this wealth of talent, but ensuring a steady role for his emotional leader will benefit team chemistry and morale on and off the floor.