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‘Heartbroken’ Bezhanishvili reflects on shortened season, teammates transferring

Without a chance to go home, Bezhanishvili has had a lot of time to think.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In one of Illinois’ deepest recruiting classes ever, the Class of 2018 once featured the great Ayo Dosunmu, the seven-foot Samba Kane, athletic wings Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones, high-flyer Anthony Higgs and, of course, the Rustavi, Georgia, native Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

After his sophomore year, the Illini are left with just Dosunmu — who has not officially announced his plans to go the NBA — and Bezhanishvili as the last members of the Class of 2022 left standing.

Bezhanishvili had an impactful freshman season, averaging 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game with 26 blocks and 22 steals on the defensive end. He also earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors the week of Feb. 11.

Following that season, Kane and Higgs left the program.

The big man’s sophomore season was better for the team, but saw Giorgi’s production dip. He averaged only 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game with 13 blocks and three steals as he fell out of the starting lineup down the stretch.

The team was NCAA Tournament bound, but the Illini never got that chance to play, due to the shutdown the coronavirus pandemic.

In a teleconference with head coach Brad Underwood on Tuesday, Bezhanishvili was honest about his feelings.

“It’s really, really heartbreaking to be honest,” Bezhanishvili said. “I’m still so heartbroken. Especially for the seniors.”

On top of the seniors leaving — Andres Feliz, Kipper Nichols, Samson Oladimeji and Tyler Underwood — Jones and Griffin have entered the transfer portal, and Dosunmu will likely leave the program for the NBA, making Bezhanishvili the last member of the once-giant Class of 2022 left on the team.

“It’s not a personal thing because it’s not about me,” he said. “People make decisions that are the best for themselves, that’s not a wrong thing to do.

“I wish the best for them.”

How does Bezhanishvili feel as his class shrinks?

“Definitely heartbroken,” he said. “Those are like my brothers.”

His good friend Dosunmu may make the next step to the NBA, and if he does, Giorgi has a message for him as well.

“I wish him the best of luck.”

With all the talk of people leaving, Bezhanishvili was distracted from the fact that he is unable to leave and return home overseas.

Instead, the rising junior is isolating in Champaign-Urbana.

Underwood mentioned that Girogi has remained on campus as it hasn’t been safe for him to travel back to his home country. But he did mention that Bezhanishvili is staying busy, even if he can’t use the team facilities.

“We all know Giorgi, he can stay entertained pretty easily,” Underwood said. “He told me he was trying to master walking on his hands.

“My daughter showed me all of his Tik Toks that he does.”

Aside from working out and doing homework, for Bezhanishvili, it’s about taking a chance to relax and reflect.

“My brother told me, ‘Hey, just sit down on your couch and relax a little bit.’ I said ‘Okay.’ I felt a little uncomfortable because I’m always running.”