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‘I don’t want them to ever forget it’: Illinois motivated after early tourney exit

The Illini began practice on Friday.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Illinois Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nearly 200 days since the Illini’s magical season — that included a Big Ten Tournament Championship — came to an end with a 71-58 loss at the hands of Loyola-Chicago.

On Friday, Brad Underwood’s fourth season with the Illini officially started — or at least official practice did. Underwood met the media in person for the first time since March of 2020, and briefed the upcoming season for the Illini.

Here’s what the newly extended head coach had to say about:

The Upcoming Season

“We have to be tougher than we were a year ago.”

“I’m excited for this group because I think they have accepted the challenge of remembering what that last game feeling was.”

“We dealt with some expectations last year, we know we have them again.”

“I just literally watched the last game. It’s taken me a while to kind of process that.”

“I am trying to play a little bit faster.”

“This team is gonna be a better shooting team.”

“Greatness is something that this program can be.”

“This is not a new team.”

On specific players

“He’s (Trent Frazier) thinking so far ahead already.”

“Coleman (Hawkins) understands that he’s a talented young man.”

“He (Coleman Hawkins) had a terrific freshman season.”

“Omar Payne is a guy who has been nothing but a very big, very pleasant surprise.”

“He’s (Omar Payne) a guy that has been off the chart.”

“Hutch (Austin Hutcherson) is unique because there’s nothing he doesn’t do, or can’t do.”

“He’s (Alfonso Plummer) one of the best shooters I’ve coached.”

“(Andre) Curbelo has an alpha personality.”

“I think Kofi (Cockburn) is in a different place mentally. Every one would love being around Kofi, he never has a bad day.”

On freshman

“I’m excited about our freshman, I love every one of them.”

On Vaccination Status

“Extremely close to perfection.”

The loss to Loyola

“Loyola’s good, I mean Loyola played great.”

“They just outplayed us. They were sharper mentally.”

“We can’t allow that to happen to us in the biggest moments.”

“I don’t want them to ever forget it.”

“So after today, we won’t talk about it again.”

On having fans in 2021

“It was the most disappointing aspect of last season.”

“We have the best home court not only in the Big Ten but the country.”