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2020-21 Player Review: Andre Curbelo

The Magician is going to be The Guy.

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

It didn’t take long for freshman Andre Curbelo to show his value to the Illinois Fighting Illini. The point guard from Puerto Rico dazzled in his debut season, landing on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and being named Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year.

His fearless style made him one of the most entertaining players in college basketball. Belo’s ballhandling and court vision created many GIF-worthy moments during the 2020-21 season, and he’s just getting started.

By The Numbers

Curbelo appeared in all 31 games for Illinois, averaging 9.2 points, 4.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds in 21.5 minutes, but saw an uptick in his numbers down the stretch. In the Illini’s final 10 contests, Curbelo averaged 12.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 25 minutes per outing — including a career-best 36 against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Belo was the headliner of the second unit and Brad Underwood rarely hesitated to put him on the floor.

The biggest weakness in Curbelo’s offensive game was clearly the three-point shot — he shot a mere 16.1% (5-for-31) from downtown. While it’s unfair to expect a Da’Monte Williams-like transformation, Curbelo could be an All-American-caliber player if he can turn into even a 30% long-distance shooter. He is clearly willing to put in the work.

Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez has earned the nickname El Mago due mostly to his eye-popping plays in the field. The Illini now have their own version of El Mago on the hardwood.

Check out a sample of some of Belo’s top “how did he do that?” moments:

Looking Ahead

Curbelo’s turnover rate (80 in 31 games) has to improve, but he is obviously a skilled passer, creator and facilitator. Change him too much and you’ll lose what makes him great. Belo is the perfect fit for Brad Underwood’s up-tempo offense and embodies everything you want in a point guard — he’s unselfish, savvy, confident, and willing to get his teammates involved.

The complexion of the Fighting Illini’s roster has changed seemingly overnight. Adam Miller, Ayo Dosunmu & Giorgi Bezhanishvili appear to be moving on. This could be Curbelo’s team in 2021.