Now that the season has concluded, in taking a step back I wanted to look at the entire team and reflect. The Illini were never short on talent and star power this past season, but there is one group of players we haven't talked about much. The walk-ons.
The Illini had 17 players on their roster this past season and the NCAA allows for 13 scholarships to be given per team. This group of walk-ons is compiled of just four guys: Connor Serven, Zach Griffith, Edgar Padilla Jr., and Tyler Underwood.
Serven played in six games this past season, making his debut against North Carolina A&T. The 6-foot-9 freshman from St. Rita High School logged a total of 13 minutes on the year. Serven is marked as a forward so it's tough to see where he will fit into this roster the next season, especially with all the unknowns of the transfer portal this off-season.
The biggest thing though, Serven is an Illini guy, and he was a fan of the program before being a player for the program.
The lone local on the Illini roster, Griffith just concluded his senior season with the program. From manager his freshman year to a walk-on as a sophomore, Griffith saw his first career start against Michigan on Senior Night. But he only got 2 minutes in that game and a total of 22 on the season.
Coaches don't seem to have enough positive things to say about Griffith, and despite not having a huge role on the court he has represented the program AND his hometown (Go Bunnies!) with class.
Edgar Padilla Jr.
Padilla joined the squad late into the offseason last year. The 6-foot-1 guard is the son of UMass legend Edgar Padilla. As a freshman Padilla appeared in six games and logging a total of 9 minutes. With such good guard play ahead of him, including fellow freshman standout Andre Curbelo (Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year), it's hard to see where Padilla could work himself into more of a role.
Though, I won't doubt what Underwood and his staff can do to develop some of these younger guys.
This past season was Underwood’s sixth season on a Division I squad. Underwood played in 6 games this season, making his season debut against Northwestern. Underwood also hit a 3-pointer in the Big Ten Tournament win over Rutgers last month. On the season he had 16 minutes and 5 points.
The son of the head coach, Tyler hasn't had a huge role on the court, but I’d imagine he has a good understanding of the way things should be run if he wants to go into coaching one day, too.
For the majority of this season, this team was playing in empty arenas. Without fans, energy and momentum can be really hard to build for a team on off nights. Even though these guys didn't really get significant minutes out on the court, their energy from the sidelines was always felt. That won't come up on any stat sheet or any scouting report, but it has an impact on the game believe it or not.
Not to mention the number of hours they put in the gym battling against some of the best players in the Big Ten. Just because these guys aren't in the spotlight doesn't mean they don't deserve any credit.