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“There was really no doubt in my mind that’s where I wanted to be”: Brandon Lieb ready for next step with Illini

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The in-state 7-footer snagged Illinois’ lone remaining scholarship for 2020-21.

Mark Ukena / News-Sun

Tristen Kissack, Site Manager, The Champaign Room: “First of all, congrats on the decision. Was [Thursday] everything you thought it’d be and more?”

Brandon Lieb: “Yeah, you know the whole process has just been really exciting, and it’s really kinda surreal to me. Especially yesterday announcing [the decision] — all the love and people saying congratulations. It’s a credit to my work and everything I’ve done and the people that helped me to get to this point. It was really cool to see it all come to fruition finally.”

TK: “What was that feeling like when you got the offer from Illinois just a few days ago?”

BL: “Tuesday night – like I said, it’s kinda surreal to me – I’ve been an Illini fan for as long as I can remember. I had family go there – my uncle and my grandfather both went there. I know a bunch of alumni. I’ve thrown this word around a lot, but it really was a dream school for me. Watching [Illinois] growing up, picturing myself out there and wanting to at least play at that level. I didn’t think it would actually be that school. Getting that offer was just huge for my confidence. Peace of mind, knowing that it is all going to work out in my favor.”

TK: “That process moved pretty quickly, what was their pitch to you on Tuesday night when they reached out?”

BL: “Earlier in the week I had been talking to Coach Coleman. He let me know they were expressing some interest. Even then, I was so thrilled to have such a good program and school like that even to be somewhat interested in me and my game. Coach Coleman had already developed somewhat of a relationship with me. They had actually seen me play, Coach Antigua came to a game when we played Rolling Meadows back in February. I was out at Illinois last June for the Illinois team camp with my high school and then were back the next week for the NCAA camp. They were familiar with me; they had me on their radar. It all moved very quickly, and I think once I did get that offer, we had a Zoom set up the next day. After that, there was really no doubt in my mind that’s where I wanted to be. They were by far the best fit of any school. I had a lot of great options, I don’t think I could’ve gone wrong with any of them, but I felt at home with them. They wanted me. Just everything about it — academics, close to home, representing your state — it all just really fell in line, and it was the fit for me.”

TK: “I know you said you were an Illinois fan growing up. What have you seen from the program in the past couple years since Brad Underwood has taken over?”

BL: “What he’s done with his players and his staff has been really cool to watch. In the past couple years, they’ve really turned it around. Finishing last year as a top-25 team. It was disappointing that the tournament got canceled because I saw them making a very deep run, and that would’ve been really cool to watch. But again, seeing all the in-state talent they’re attracting in the past few years it says something — playing and representing your state. When you have that good of a staff and that good of a group of players and these top players want to come in, it really says something about the program, Coach Underwood, and really what the whole staff has been able to do there in such a short matter of time.”

TK: “Illinois has had some impressive freshman bigs the past couple years with guys like Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Kofi Cockburn. Are you looking forward to matching up with them in practice, assuming Kofi comes back?”

BL: “I know there’s a ton of speculation about that, but absolutely. We were there in June and I actually got to watch two hours of one of their practices. I saw the way they use their bigs and how big they were on the development part. Again, it’s just such a good fit for me. Especially Kofi, and I know Giorgi is such a skilled player as well. Being able to go against them and bigger bodies everyday In practice, whether I’m redshirting or not. I think a year of being with such good talent and big bodies beating up on me is really going to help me in the long run adjusting to the physicality of Big Ten basketball.”