Illini fans were pumped this past spring when Illinois received a commitment from 2021 Wisconsin Mr. Basketball Brandin Podziemski and rightfully so. Knowing Illini legend Ayo Dosunmu was out the door and onto the NBA, solidifying the wing position for the future was critical for Underwood and Co. The Illini are getting a good one in Podziemski, capable of taking defenders off the dribble as well as being a spot up shooter and a lengthy athletic defender. This is just what Illinois needs, surrounding primary creator Andre Curbelo and imposing interior presences Kofi Cockburn and Omar Payne with strong shooting and playmaking.
Given what the Illini have lost in Dosunmu and the wealth of promising incoming talent, it may be a by-committee approach to replace Dosunmu’s production, but the Illini have a strong piece both now and into the future with Podziemski as he grows into the college game.
What Illinois is Getting
Podziemski comes to Illinois with a highly decorated high school resume, earning the Wisconsin Mr. Basketball award this past spring while becoming the first player in Wisconsin high basketball history to reach 2,000 career points in only 3 years. The Muskego, Wisc., native was the 23rd best player in the Midwest and the 29th best shooting guard in this year’s class according to ESPN. He finished a stellar senior season averaging 35 points, over 10 rebounds, over 4 steals, almost 6 assists, and over a block per game.
He clearly has the potential to impact the game in multiple ways as he grows and develops at Illinois, but his shooting and offensive arsenal as a complementary scorer should show up quickly for Illinois. Fortunately, as just a freshman, he won’t be tasked with taking on too heavy of a role. Don’t expect him to be satisfied as a rotation player, though. He stated his intentions this spring, seeing the losses of Miller and Dosunmu as “an opportunity to come in and start right away.” If he comes in and contributes like his ceiling suggest he could, he could contend for minutes in a very deep roster.
What to Expect
Like many freshmen, Podziemski will likely have some highs and lows depending on the night and who Illinois is facing. Adjusting to the speed and style of play in the Big Ten is no small task for any freshman. The strength, speed, and ability of everyone he’s playing against will be very new coming from high school. As such, Illini fans should be patient with the talented freshman.
Last season, Adam Miller came in with greater hype from the high school ranks and saw his fair share of struggles gaining playing time and making consistent contributions, but by the end of the season, he became a significantly better defender and consistent scorer under the tutelage of Dosunmu and other Illinois veterans. I expect a somewhat similar progression for Podziemski (ideally sans transfer), who may take time to become more capable as an off the dribble scorer in a rugged Big Ten and become a more polished defender with coaching and time. However, players of his ilk are exactly the type that Underwood loves and ultimately flourish in his space and pace, pick and roll offense.
There’s a great deal to be excited about with Podziemski and the rest of this Illini roster. Illinois brings in a great deal of shooting and versatile athleticism to mesh nicely with a strong returning core. While the preseason prognostications for this Illini team season haven’t reached the feverish highs of last year, this team brings a great deal of individual and collective talent that should keep Illinois atop the college basketball landscape for a third consecutive year.