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Transfer Portal Watch: The Backcourt

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What guards can the Illini pick up this offseason?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round Pittsburgh Practice Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For a few fortunate teams, the NCAA Tournament is still ongoing. For the rest — including the Illinois Fighting Illini — it’s TRANSFER PORTAL SZN! While we don’t yet know how many players are staying or going, it’s clear that Illinois’ roster is about to experience a significant makeover.

The Fighting Illini head into the offseason with several spots open in their backcourt. Super-seniors Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams are departing. Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer is also gone following a Third Team All-Big Ten campaign. And Andre Curbelo announced this week that he’ll be entering the transfer portal.

Illinois does have Jayden Epps and Sencire Harris joining the roster next season, but who else will be manning the guard spots? Brad Underwood will be seeking reinforcements and there are plenty of intriguing recruits availble in the portal.

Some of these names are players the Illini are already courting, while others are guys I’d like to see the team pursue that I believe would be good fits. Let’s take a look.

Brandon Murray, LSU

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Murray entered the portal last week following the dismissal of LSU coach Will Wade. The Fighting Illini have reportedly already shown interest in the 6-foot-5, 215-pound wing. Murray started 32 games for the Tigers as a true freshman, averaging 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists while shooting 33.6% from long range.

He is a long, big-bodied guard — the type of player Brad Underwood desperately needs — with versatility and the ability to score from anywhere on the court. He was also a key contributor on an LSU defense that finished 6th in KenPom.

Current Illini assistant Chester Frazier also recruited Murray while coaching at Virginia Tech.

Antonio Reeves, Illinois State

Illinois State guard Antonio Reeves led the Missouri Valley Conference with 20.1 ppg this season.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-foot-6 Reeves maybe the most coveted guard on the transfer market, and it’s no denying why. The Simeon grad was a scoring machine for the Redbirds, tallying an eye-popping 660 points this season. Reeves’ 20.1 ppg was the most in the Missouri Valley Conference and tied for 19th nationally. Reeves isn’t just a volume scorer but an efficient one — 46.7% FG, 39.0% 3-pt, 81.8% FT.

He’s attracted lots of attention early in the process — in addition to Illinois, schools like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Wisconsin have already reached out.

With assistant Tim Anderson now in the fold, Illinois is ready to re-establish the Chicago pipeline. The Illini would be wise to not let Reeves wriggle away.

Dontaie Allen, Kentucky

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Kentucky Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A four-star recruit in the 2019 class, Allen was an injury redshirt as a freshman. He played 22 games in 2020-21, averaging 5.4 ppg for the Wildcats, finishing second on the team in 3-point percentage (39.7) and made threes (31).

After CJ Fredrick was lost to injury, the sophomore guard just wasn’t able to capitalize on his opportunity this season, making just 29.5% of his shots and 18.7% of his treys in 10 non-conference games. Allen eventually vanished from Kentucky’s rotation almost entirely, logging only five TOTAL minutes in February & March.

The rangy 6-foot-6 Allen is a great bounceback candidate and he could benefit immensely from a change of scenery.

Caleb Asberry, Texas State

NCAA Basketball: Texas State at Houston
Texas State guard Caleb Asberry was First Team All-Sun Belt in 2021-22.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Asberry was Mr. Everything for the Bobcats last season, pacing the team in minutes played (847), steals (37), and three-pointers made (63). Asberry averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.3 steals per game and finished the year shooting 43.3% FG (125-of-289), 38.7% from distance, and 82% from the free throw line (82-of-100).

The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Asberry was the best player on a Texas State squad that finished 21-8 and won the Sun Belt regular season crown. It could be his time to flourish at the power-conference level.

Joe Bamisile, George Washington

NCAA Basketball: George Washington at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Bamisile was a four-star prospect that initially committed to Northwestern in before flipping to Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-4 Bamisile had a breakout campaign for GW in 2021-22, being named Third Team All-Atlantic 10. The Chesterfield, Va., native finished fourth in the conference in scoring (16.3 ppg) while shooting 45.8% from the floor (35.1% three-point). Bamisile is also a terrific rebounder for his size, averaging 5.0 rpg. If that wasn’t enough He also added 37 steals and 29 blocks on the defensive end.

Like most of the players on this list, Bamisile is a Swiss Army Knife-type guy who can do just about everything well. Brad Underwood needs players that he can deploy in a variety of matchups and assignments.

He also plays with flair and bravado, which should endear himself to Illinois fans the way that Andre Curbelo & Giorgi Bezhanishvili have in recent years.

Sheldon Edwards, Valparaiso

NCAA Basketball: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament- Valparaiso Crusaders vs Evansville Aces Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Edwards ended his sophomore season by being named to the Missouri Valley Conference Most-Improved Team. The 6-foot-4 lefty paced Valpo in steals (36), blocked shots (26) and tied for the team lead in triples (67). Edwards finished the regular season as one of only seven players nationally with 25 blocks, 30 steals, 35 assists and 60 made threes.

Edwards was named captain of the All-MVC Bench Team after averaging 11.4 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 32 games (10 starts). That type of production would be very useful in a reserve/flex role in Champaign, as well.

Ithiel Horton, Pittsburgh

Ithiel Horton (#12) missed the second half of the season due to suspension before leaving the Pittsburgh program.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Illini will need a veteran point guard next season, either in the starting five or off the bench. Horton fits the bill. In 13 games last season the 6-foot-5 combo guard averaged 9.8 points on 38% shooting from outside the arc. He’s demonstrated that he can be a solid contributor for a power-conference team.

The major issue with Horton is that he was suspended by Pitt twice last season stemming from an incident in which he allegedly struck a police officer in November. If his legal issues are resolved, Horton could be a terrific plug-and-play option for Illinois in 2022.

Gedi Juozapaitis, Georgia Southern

gseagles.com

In addition to having a pretty cool name, Juozapaitis has exhibited a sweet shooting stroke from three (34.6%) and a deft touch from the free throw line (95.2%) during two seasons at Georgia Southern. Prior to his time in Statesboro, Juozapaitis was a stud for two seasons at Division II Flagler College, averaging nearly 17 ppg and shooting 43% from deep in 56 games.

His game translates to the high-major level, and you can feel comfortable having him on the floor in late-game situations. Juozapaitis has one year of eligibility remaining.

Erik Stevenson, South Carolina

NCAA Basketball: Florida at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

His teammate Jermaine Couisnard may generate more attention, but Stevenson was sneaky good for the Gamecocks. The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 11.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, and 2.7 apg during his lone season in Columbia. But his most valuable attribute is his free throw shooting — Stevenson connected on 61 of 62 attempts (98.2%) from the line. Even with Trent Frazier & Alfonso Plummer, the Illini finished 11th in the Big Ten in team free throw percentage (69%).

Brad Underwood was an assistant to Frank Martin, Stevenson’s former coach at Carolina, so there could be some inroads there. But Martin just accepted the head coaching job at UMass, so that’s another possible landing spot.

Whichever school lands Stevenson will be his fourth — he played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Wichita State before transferring to Washington as a junior.

Jeremiah Williams, Temple

NCAA Basketball: Temple at Memphis Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Another former Simeon product, the Illini could certainly use a guard with Williams’ well-roundedness. As a freshman, Williams averaged 9.5 ppg and 4.3 apg for the Temple Owls in 2021-22. The 6-foot-5 point guard also notched 30 steals and 15 blocks in 22 games. He isn’t an elite offensive player, but Williams is a willing distributor, a good rebounder, and provides the size lacking from Illinois’ backcourt last season.

Williams has also heard from DePaul, Loyola Chicago, Georgia, Cincinnati, Xavier & Iowa State, among others.