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Transfer Portal Watch: The Backcourt 2.0

Who should the Illini add this summer?

Andre Curbelo and Alfonso Plummer won’t be easy to replace.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The college basketball season is officially over (I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying!) but a coaching staff’s work is truly never done. With nearly 1,400 players in the transfer portal, there is a lot of film to study, a lot of texts and calls to make, and a lot of thinking to be done about roster composition.

Skyy Clark, Jayden Epps, and Sincere Harris will be joining the Illini as freshmen next season. But there’s still room — and the need — to add another experienced guard via the transfer portal. The Fighting Illini currently have two scholarships available heading into 2022-23 following the departures of Andre Curbelo & Brandin Podziemski.

I mentioned some intriguing transfer targets last month, several of which have already found new homes:

  • Dontaie Allen (committed to Western Kentucky)
  • Joe Bamisile (Oklahoma)
  • Gedi Juozapaitis (Maine)
  • Brandon Murray (Georgetown)
  • Erik Stevenson (West Virginia)
  • Jeremiah Williams (Iowa State)

Here are some more targets that could fit into the Illini’s plans next season.

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.

Emmanuel Akot, Boise State

NCAA Basketball: Boise State at San Diego State Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

Akot has helped put Leon Rice’s Boise State program on the map since transferring from Arizona. A five-star prospect in 2017 by 247Sports, Akot played two seasons in Tucson before joining the Broncos in 2019.

Limited to just 17 games due to a knee injury, Akot was still named All-Mountain West Honorable Mention and helped the Broncos win the conference’s regular season and tournament championships in 2021-22. Akot averaged 12.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists this past season, while shooting 42.9% from the field and 39.5% from three.

At 6-foot-8, Akot can play three positions, but is most comfortable at point guard. His length, versatility and experience would make him an immediate fit at Illinois. And, hey...he already looks pretty good in orange & blue!

Nahiem Alleyne, Virginia Tech

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-foot-4 Alleyne started 84 of 90 games in three seasons with the Hokies. The Georgia native is a career 38.7% long-range shooter and has averaged 80.7% at the free throw line.

Alleyne scored in double-digits in 17 games this season and had 10 contests with 3+ made threes. The Hokies averaged 70.8 ppg and finished 17th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency (115 points per 100 possessions).

Illinois has already reached out and could have an inside track due Alleyne’s connection with Chester Frazier, who was an assistant at Virginia Tech from 2019-21.

Hayden Brown, The Citadel

NCAA Basketball: Citadel at Pittsburgh
Hayden Brown (#33) scored 1,014 points the past two seasons.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Citadel is one of the toughest places to play — and win — in all of college basketball. But you wouldn’t be able to blame Hayden Brown for the Bulldogs’ struggles.

Brown is a big-bodied guard/forward (6-foot-5, 225 lbs.) who averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game the past two seasons. Brown recorded 12 double-doubles in ‘21-22 — during a nine-game stretch from Feb. 5-Mar. 4, he averaged 20.3 ppg and 13.3 rpg.

Brown was voted First Team All-SoCon by the media and Second Team All-SoCon by the league’s coaches. He’s a strong, physical player who can score in the paint, attack the boards, and stretch the floor. Brown will have a sixth and final year of eligibility as a graduate transfer.

Nijel Pack, Kansas State

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Fighting Illini expect to have plenty of scoring in their backcourt. But entrusting a true freshman such as Skyy Clark to be the lead guard right away could be risky. Former Kansas State PG Nijel Pack could instantly fill the void.

Pack is one of 10 former K-State players to transfer out following Bruce Weber’s departure. The Indianapolis native was a four-star recruit in 2020 and started 52 of 53 games during his two seasons with the Wildcats. Pack improved demonstrably on offense this past season, averaging 17.4 ppg (up from 12.7 ppg in 2020-21), 45.5% FG (up from 41.8%), 43.6% from three (40.5%), and 84.5% from the free throw line (79.4%).

Pack was K-State’s top scorer in each of his two seasons in the Little Apple, and he was named All-Big 12 First Team in 2022. He’s demonstrated he can step in immediately and be a team leader. If I were Brad Underwood, Pack would be a priority target.

Courtney Ramey, Texas

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Purdue vs Texas Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Another consistent Big 12 performer, it feels like Illinois has been linked to Courtney Ramey for ages. The St. Louis product was originally offered by John 2015. Ramey committed to Texas in 2018 and remained with the Longhorns during the transition from Shaka Smart to Chris Beard.

The 6-foot-3 Ramey appeared in 128 games (106 starts) in four seasons, totaling 1,275 points on 39.2% shooting (36.5% three-point) while averaging around 30 minutes per game.

He’s never put up top-tier numbers but Ramey is a proven, steady, reliable player from Illinois’ backyard that can be a leader & mentor for a young backcourt.

Grant Sherfield, Nevada

NCAA Basketball: Nevada at San Diego State
Grant Sherfield scored 1,000 points and shot 35% from three while at Nevada.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

A high-volume scorer at Nevada, Sherfield scored 1,017 points in just two seasons. But the former Wichita State transfer is far from a one-tool player. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound point guard also averaged around six assists, four rebounds and one steal per game with the Wolf Pack, along with a 2.05 assist/turnover ratio.

An All-Mountain West Third Team honoree in ‘21-22, Sherfield is a versatile veteran combo guard who would instantly make the Fighting Illini better. Sherfield’s shown he can produce for a mid-major and should be able to make a splash at the power-conference level.

Jahmir Young, Charlotte

NCAA Basketball: Charlotte at Arkansas Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Another combo guard that can seemingly do it all, Jahmir Young was First Team All-Conference each of the last two seasons. Young finished second in Conference USA in scoring with 19.8 points per game, second in free-throw percentage (.889), ninth in assists (3.6), and ninth in assist/turnover ratio (1.64).

He’s a volume scorer while also being an efficient shooter (1,421 career points on 44.3% shooting and 35% three-point). Young also averaged nearly 36 minutes per contest and led the 49ers in rebounding this season (5.9 rpg) at 6-foot-1.

Young posseesses the scoring pop of Alfonso Plummer, the playmaking ability of Andre Curbelo, the rebounding & toughness of Andres Feliz, and the reliability of Trent Frazier.

Illinois’ roster is still in flux, but Brad Underwood and his staff are forging ahead. Any of the players listed above would be great additions to the program and help the Fighting Illini maintain their positive momentum.