After the Illinois Fighting Illini lost to Houston in the round of 32, Brad Underwood responded with a loaded recruiting class in 2022. According to 247 Sports, Illinois has the seventh-best recruiting class in the nation and the best in the Big Ten. It also ranks this class as the highest-rated in Illinois’ history (since it started tracking them in 1999).
With this historic recruiting class incoming and sky-high expectations, let’s preview the upcoming freshmen.
When Skyy Clark de-committed from Kentucky and chose Illinois over Maryland, Tennessee, Louisville, USC and Washington, it surprised many in the college basketball world as Clark was highly recruited by top schools. He is Illinois’ highest-rated recruit in the past 20 years.
Clark is a 6-foot-3 guard out of Montverde, Florida, and a 4-star recruit. He tore his ACL last summer and while he returned in January, he looked a little rusty. Through his offseason workouts and the training he has done since January, he should be back to full strength by the time basketball season starts. Clark is a scoring point guard and is proficient at shooting the three where he shot 37% during his junior year of high school. He can create space for himself and has a dependable jumper.
Another strength of his game is he attacks the hoop with explosiveness that will be able to translate to the college level. Clark will have an immediate impact for the Illini and be a starter throughout his first season. His shooting and explosiveness will immediately translate but his defense will need to progress throughout his freshman year. Clark has the caliber of being the primary scorer for the Illini.
Ty Rodgers was selected as one of 13 players for the U18 National Team and only the second Illinois player ever selected (Ayo Dosunmu). Rodgers is a 6-foot-6 power forward out of Harvey, Illinois but was originally from Michigan so he was heavily recruited by both Michigan and Michigan State.
He is a 4-star recruit and averaged 15.3 points and 13.9 rebounds in high school last year. Rodgers is an athletic player which will allow him to be strong on the defensive end. This will allow Brad Underwood to have flexibility when deciding where to put him into the lineup. He is also an effective rebounder, ball-handler, and passer which will free the floor for scorers around him.
Rodgers is also a productive midrange and close scorer. This year Ty will come off the bench and be mentored under RJ Melendez and the coaching staff. This will help him develop his outside shot and translate his defensive and scoring to the college level. At the minimum, Rodgers will be an effective player for the Illini with the caliber of being an All-Big Ten player in the future.
Jayden Epps is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a four-star recruit who averaged 26 points in high school. He committed to Providence but then de-committed and committed to Illinois. Epps had offers from Kansas, Arkansas, and Florida.
Similar to Skyy, Epps is a scoring point guard. He can score at all three levels, especially at the midrange, and is explosive when going to the net. Defenders will need to respect his shot which has given him space to drive to the paint. He is an especially physical driver when he gets to paint, and his signature finish is a one-handed scoop layup. Epps will need to develop more as a passer and have a consistent outside jump shot.
Throughout his freshman year, Epps will come off the bench and see playing time in important situations for the Illini.
Sencire Harris is a 6-foot-4 guard from Akron, Ohio, and went to St. Vincent-St. Mary — ya know, where LeBron James went to high school.
Harris is a proven winner as he has helped bring home two state championships in 2021 and 2022. A 4-star recruit and the highest-rated recruit from the state of Ohio, he weighs 160 pounds, which is a bit undersized but will be a major focus during his first year in college.
Harris averaged 20.1 points with 5.7 rebounds and 3.8 steals this past year in high school. He is a versatile defender, especially on the perimeter, which the Illini will need after losing their top defender in Trent Frazier. Harris is a passionate player and plays much taller than his height.
He also enjoys running the floor and playing in transition. He is effective in attacking the hoop and has a midrange game. I don’t expect Harris to get a ton of minutes throughout the season unless there is an unexpected injury. He needs to improve his outside shooting and defense for the college level.
What to Expect
Although there will be some transition period for these freshmen and probably a bad early nonconference loss, this class will settle and succeed as the season goes along. Last year, Brad Underwood was hesitant to give the freshman playing time all season. No freshmen logged a minute against Chattanooga in the first round. Underwood will need to show trust in his freshmen this year through playing crucial minutes in impactful games as Illinois doesn’t have the same veteran presence as last year.
Skky Clark will presumably be the starting point guard and Ty Rodgers and Jayden Epps will play impactful minutes off the bench throughout the season. As this recruiting class is one of the best historically for the Illini, they will have an immediate impact.