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Brad Underwood rebuilt Illinois’ roster. Will it work?

Agree to disagree ahead of time. There is no consensus.

Underwood against Arkansas last March.
Jack Jungmann // TCR

Greetings and salutations, Illinois Land!

It’s been a minute since I’ve graced the pages of The Champaign Room. At that time, Brad Underwood had just finished losing another NCAA Tournament game, this time to Arkansas. That particular game was a nearly perfect carbon copy of several previous contests in the 2022-23 season.

Dull. Uninspired. Sloppy. Apathetic.

At the post-game press conference, Underwood made a joke about sophomore guard RJ Melendez, to which Underwood felt the need to verbally clarify “it was meant to be funny, RJ.”

Melendez, like so many other players on the Illinois basketball roster, had fallen out of good graces with not only the fanbase, but seemingly the entire coaching staff. It looked like Coleman Hawkins (Jr.) and Terrence Shannon, Jr. (RS - Sr.) were heading to either the NBA or to play professionally in Europe.

What the hell was going on with freshman sensation Jayden Epps? Amidst a concussion, and a prolonged shooting slump, Epps’ future was cloudy, at best. The aforementioned former freshman sensation Melendez was of a similar view. No one knew, including the players themselves.

Baylor transfer Dain Dainja had portal rumors congruently, but would have to sit a year if he transferred again. Although not thought to be a program-defining piece to the puzzle, Dainja’s departure would deal a near death blow to any semblance of paint productivity the next season.

Cue: Chicken Little.

The sky was falling. Well, not so much falling. It potentially was already lying on the ground.

I haven’t even mentioned freshmen guards Ty Rodgers and Sencire Harris. It seemed like they were “always coming back.” This dynamic duo can do everything on a basketball court, save shooting free throws or shooting, in general.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Illinois vs Arkansas
Rodgers slashes to the bucket, with a trailing TSJ in the background.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore guard Luke Goode, an expected starter, had just suffered through a broken ankle that cost him about 85% of his sophomore year. He was a mortal lock to return for his junior year.

The Departed: 2023 Offseason

Here’s the list of transfers and departures. Senior guard Matthew Mayer is the only one on the list who doesn’t have any eligibility left in college.

  • Jayden Epps (So.): Georgetown
  • RJ Melendez (Jr.): Georgia
  • Skyy Clark (So.): Louisville
  • Zach Perrin (So.): Returned to France
  • Matthew Mayer (RS - Sr.): Turned professional

Skyy Clark essentially left the team in December, in between various conflicting reports, and not much factually said from Underwood or the athletic department. Clark (No. 27) was the highest-ranked recruit in Illinois history. He barely made it to New Year’s Eve.

The Arrivals: 2023-24 roster additions

Underwood and his staff added high-quality players from both the transfer portal, and via the traditional route of convincing a high school player to start their college career at Illinois. This was formerly known as “recruiting.”

Here are the incoming additions via the transfer portal:

Quincy Guerrier (6-foot-7, 220): From Oregon, via Syracuse

PROJECTION: Day 1 Starter

Syndication: The Register Guard
Guerrier bangs down low in PAC-12 play last season. He can fill it up from downtown, shooting nearly 35% in his last season at Oregon.
Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

This widely overlooked addition by BU is a complete player, with size and athleticism. Think about “a Michigan State player” and QG is what that player embodies. Guerrier is already 24 and a grown-ass man. With a career PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 16.8, Guerrier should replace the production of Mayer, and will certainly be better on the boards and defensive end.

QG shot 34.7% from three last season, and has improved his shooting from long range every year.

Justin Harmon (6-foot-4, 180): From Utah Valley, via Barton CC (JuCo)


Can shoot it at times, but is no sniper. Athletic guard that can play with pace and an overall efficient player.

Good get for Underwood and Co. If Harmon can turn the ball over less (big if) and play with speed, he will be a welcome addition to the roster this fall. He will ease the burden of “having to” play Harris and/or Rodgers if they are struggling against high-major Big Ten foes. He will be a key factor in the early-season tilt with top-5 Marquette in November (Gavitt Games).

Marcus Domask (6-foot-6, 215): From Southern Illinois


Syndication: The Oklahoman
Domask celebrates with teammates after a road kill at Oklahoma State. If he reminds you of Luke Goode, don’t be alarmed. He should.

Domask plays the most important position of need for Illinois: Shooter. After starting four years in The Valley at SIU, he will be a steady presence and will be a tremendous compliment to Goode. They will play at the same time and stretch the defense to give the big athletes at Illinois driving lanes to the bucket.

Domask shot 87.6% at the charity stripe last year. He can rebound and had a 3.8 Assist/TO rate. How much the jump in competition will effect those efficiency numbers is something to watch. Eye-popping 20.0 PER for Domask in his career.

Jeremiah Williams (6-foot-5, 185): Iowa State, via Temple

PROJECTION: Early season starter

NCAA Basketball: Temple at Memphis
Good-looking athlete with experience. Not a great shooter, but size and experience matter, particularly early in the season.
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Williams eased the sting of RayJ Dennis going to Baylor instead of Champaign. He is not the player the caliber or quality of Dennis, but can compete for the PG spot, if he can stay healthy and get on the court. He owns a 2:1 Assist/TO ratio for his career. Health is a key factor for this player.

(A reminder: Williams must submit a waiver to be able to play this season since it is his second transfer in two years.)

Here are the incoming freshman:

Amani Hansberry (6-foot-7, 225): Mount St. Joseph High School

PROJECTION: Front court depth

Hansberry on his visit to Champaign.
247 Sports

Hansberry is ranked 67th in the ESPN100, with an overall scout grade of 84, good enough for four stars. What that means is largely up to interpretation.

Hansberry is somewhat raw athletically but has Rodgers on campus to ease the burden in that department. He has elite size and strength for a freshman. Hansberry slowly crept up the rankings as the prep season continued, solidifying his place as a potential contributor in his freshman campaign.

Underwood purports he is “well coached” and “very, very skilled.” I’ll tamper my expectations here a bit, because he won’t be thrust into minutes early in the season. Hansberry and Rodgers will fit like two athletic, skilled gloves in the seasons to come.

Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn (6-foot-1, 165): Word of God Christian Academy

Projection: Guard depth

Lawhorn shows glimpses of former Illinois phenom Andre Curbelo, but should be a more reliable shooter from downtown.
247 Sports

DGL fell rather precipitously in the rankings during his final high school season. That could be a harbinger of things to come, but could be a matter of circumstance. There is potential for a repeat of Skyy Clark with Lawhorn, but I’ll not judge that until it comes to fruition. He was originally committed to Matt Painter and Purdue, before re-opening his recruitment and signing with Illinois.

Lawhorn has immense skill at creating his own shot, as well as getting the other four on the court opportunities that other guards don’t afford. If he can stay focused on the task at hand, and not let off-the-court issues deter his trajectory, Lawhorn will be just what the doctor ordered.

Illinois will likely be considered a Top-25 team in nearly every pre-season poll. Does that mean anything?

The short answer: maybe...maybe not. Probably not, but maybe it does. We’ll see.

With Hawkins, TSJ, Goode, Dainja, Rodgers and Harris all back in the mix, Illinois should eclipse its ceiling from a season ago.

One thing is for certain: uncertainty.

My initial opinion is Illinois will make the tournament easily and be on the 4-7 seed line. Michigan State will be too good for Illinois to win the Big Ten.

Here’s the spoiler from yours truly:


Please take my scientific poll, and let your voice be heard. As always, leave your thoughts in the comments section. I’ll put the best one in my next column.


With the roster basically complete, how good will Illinois be this year?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Miss the tournament by a wide margin
    (27 votes)
  • 39%
    High seed, upset in NCAA Tournament before Sweet 16
    (359 votes)
  • 40%
    Sweet 16
    (364 votes)
  • 11%
    Elite 8
    (108 votes)
  • 5%
    Final Four
    (50 votes)
908 votes total Vote Now

Buckle up, strap in and get ready. This season is more uncertain than the last. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

This is Illinois basketball.