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5 early portal entrants Illinois should target

How will the Illini approach the early portion of #PortalSZN?

Illinois v Arkansas Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Illinois’ season ended with a 10-point loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks in Des Moines, Iowa. So the tumultuous offseason begins.

Well, from a player personnel perspective, the offseason began months ago. Five-star point guard Skyy Clark left the program. Big man Zacharie Perrin signed his NLI, didn’t qualify academically, spent a semester at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas, enrolled at Illinois, and left the program all within a few months. Additionally, Italian point guard Niccolo Morretti joined the roster at the beginning of the spring semester.

The postmortem to this season has been ugly. There has been plenty of finger-pointing within and outside of the fanbase. But regardless of the quantity of consternation, the free agency period has begun. And Illinois has a still undetermined number of roster spots to fill.

Matthew Mayer is out of eligibility. Terrence Shannon is likely to leave due to his potential late first-round NBA Draft status. Coleman Hawkins also has a chance to be drafted this year.

And then, there is the expected attrition.

Few expected Adam Miller, Brandin Podziemski or Andre Curbelo’s exits as problems to be proactively solved. Yet those departures have significantly impacted the roster which now lacks perimeter shooting and primary playmakers.

As players enter the transfer portal, speculation will run wild. So let’s start looking at the possibilities. Here are a few players currently in the transfer portal who could make sense for the Illini.

As of March 21, there are 616 Division I men’s college basketball players in the Transfer Portal. Surely, there could be a few fits for the Illini among that group.

Jamison Battle - Minnesota

Maryland v Minnesota Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Battle is a 6-foot-7 forward with whom Illini fans are familiar. I was there at The Barn the night he dropped 31 on the Illini. Battle has legitimate scoring chops and size. His Big Ten experience would also be a definite plus for a potentially young Illini squad.

However, Battle is more of a scorer than a shooter. He shot 37% from the field and 31% from behind the arc this past season. It would be difficult for him to play in lineups with Ty Rodgers, Amani Hansberry and Dain Dainja. As the 3-4 man in that lineup, he wouldn’t provide sufficient floor spacing.

So perhaps he’s not the ideal fit as a small forward with the current Illini roster. But his talent and productivity make him at least worth a cursory inquiry. And he could be highly productive as a small-ball 5.

Damian Dunn - Temple

Temple v Cincinnati Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Dunn is a skilled guard who shot 35% from three-point range and was second on the Owls with 15 points per game this past season. The 6-foot-5 guard has 58 starts under his belt.

Dunn has two years of eligibility, which makes him even more appealing to an Illini squad with mostly unproven guards. The third-team AAC performer will no doubt be a hot commodity in the portal. According to 247 Sports, he has already heard from Georgia Tech and VCU.

While Dunn is a capable scorer, his assist to turnover ratio is close to 1:1. So there are questions surrounding how he would perform as a primary facilitator in a larger conference. But as an off-ball scorer, Dunn could fit with the Illini’s switchable, lengthy, versatile philosophy

Chris Ledlum - Harvard

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 21 Howard at Harvard Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the most common gripes of Illini fandom is that the admissions department is a bottleneck to the DIA getting high-end athletes.

So for you, dear reader, I bring you a Harvard grad transfer.

Not only is Chris Ledlum a Harvard grad transfer, but he was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school. He ranks as one of Tommy Amaker’s most high-profile signees. And he did not disappoint.

The 6-foot-6 forward is similar in size to Ty Rodgers. And much like the actualized version of Rodgers that brings vivid dreams to Illini fans, Ledlum is a true stat sheet stuffer. Last season, Ledlum scored 19 points per game on 47% shooting. He added 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block per game and emerged as one of the Ivy League’s top players.

The Brooklyn native may want to remain on the east coast, which would be understandable. But his multi-dimensional defensive profile and midrange proficiency could fit a rebuilding Illini well.

Graham Ike - Wyoming

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 15 Div I Men’s Championship - First Four - Indiana v Wyoming Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ike is coming off a season spent on the sidelines recovering from an injury. But the Wyoming big man was an extraordinarily productive player prior to his injuries.

He was nearly a 20-and-10 player for the Cowboys in the 2021-22 season. He even put up 17 and 9 against Trayce Jackson-Davis and the Hoosiers in the last game he played. At 6-foot-9, he projects as a post player for an Illini team that occasionally struggled against bigger frontcourt players.

Yes, there is injury risk. And of course, there are questions about the level of competition. But the stat sheet, physical measurables, and productivity demonstrate a resume of a classic step-up transfer. He’d be a huge get for the Illini frontcourt.

Andrew Rohde - St. Thomas

The Horizon League freshman of the year was an ace for the Tommies this past season. The 6-foot-6 point guard averaged 17 points on 45% from the field and 82% from the foul line. As a freshman, he only shot 32% from three-point range, but he flashes the potential for further growth throughout the rest of his college career.

The Milwaukee native could be a great fit for the Gophers, who play a mere four miles from St. Thomas. But this is the kind of player who would be an excellent pursuit for the Illini. A tall, rangy guard who can handle the ball fits what the Illini need to replenish their roster.

The Illini already stole Dain Dainja from the Gophers backyard. And at one point, they won a Milwaukee-area recruitment for the current WCC Co-POY (Podz). Perhaps Rohde will give the Illini the chance to strike again in the Upper Midwest.