True freshmen should never be finished products.
One of the best dumb opinions is when meatball fan A says freshman B can’t do C because he didn’t do C in his first year.
Eliminating the potential for evolution demonstrates significant ignorance of the process.
So the fans convinced that Ty Rodgers’ electric but erratic offensive performances last season are prescriptive are ignoring the growth process players experience as they transition from high school elites to college contributors.
And yes, I know that “in-house option Ty Rodgers” is not the preferred answer to the offseason-long point guard problem. We all know the story.
- Skyy Clark and Jayden Epps left the program.
- RayJ Dennis entered the transfer portal, and the Plainfield, IL native looked like the ideal fit for a fanbase starving for a floor general.
- RayJ Dennis committed to Scott Drew and Baylor.
- Illinois immediately announced the commitment of Iowa State-via-Temple transfer guard Jeremiah Williams.
- Williams decommitted from Illinois underneath a cloud of suspicion of improper behavior.
So then the slow trickle of summer workout hyperbole started its journey into the hearts of Illinois Land.
So as things stand, and as my colleague Brandt Dolce so eloquently broke down, Ty will carry the keys to the kingdom. Unless Illinois makes a last-minute addition, the Grand Blanc, Michigan native will take the helm of an offensive that vacillated between inconsistent and anemic last season.
So how can the Illini set him up to succeed? Here are five ways.
Surround him with better shooting.
So last year, Illinois didn’t hit a lot of threes. However, that didn’t stop the squad from hoisting up lots of them. Ill-advised shots haunted the entire 2022-23 season. Was this a matter of poor scheming, inability, or poor execution?
The answer is likely some combination of the three. But this season’s version of the Illini roster shouldn’t be dragged down by the same malady. The additions of Marcus Domask, a healthy Luke Goode, Quincy Guerrier, and Justin Harmon should greatly improve the Illinois perimeter game. Adding to the largesse are the returns of Terrence Shannon Jr. and Coleman Hawkins. Both players need to improve their in-game perimeter shooting to have a chance at being drafted next season.
Illinois can play Rodgers with four shooters so he can make quick reads. These quick passes to ready and able shooters enable head coach Brand Underwood loves to play.
Play with pace.
The Illinois offense last season was largely predicated on the ability to get shots up early in the shot clock. This led to shooters who were either less than ideal catch-and-shoot targets taking poor shots. This also led to lots of transition opportunities for opponents. While playing fast is not a bad idea, the pace was built around the concept that Skyy Clark would be the one orchestrating the allegro symphony.
Yeah, that obviously didn’t last.
But with better marksmen spread throughout the floor, Ty Rodgers’ quick decision-making can come in handy.
As a freshman, Rodgers often played like the game was too fast and he needed to catch up to it. He drove recklessly. He took hurried, poor shots after making electrifying drives and dives to the basket.
Also, Ty’s 39% free throw percentage has to improve, or else teams may start hacking him.
Protect him with multiple secondary facilitators.
People who are negative on Ty Rodgers’ potential as this season’s point guard are losing sight of a valuable buffer: his teammates. A point guard doesn’t have to do all of the playmaking end-to-end.
That’s why players like Terrence Shannon Jr., Sincere Harris, Coleman Hawkins, and Justin Harmon will be of great importance. When you have other players who are capable of involving teammates, the pressure on Rodgers goes down.
Rodgers ran the point at Thornton. He ran point for Team USA. He has the tools. But there’s no reason to put undue stress on him. He can be a tremendous college basketball player. He can be a high-end collegiate point guard. And a big part of why he can be a great college “one” is because of the team Illinois can put around him.
Oh, I forgot about one other player who can be a big help to Ty’s transition.
Spell him with a change of pace.
Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn was a revelation with Overtime Elite last season. He averaged 20 points and 4 assists. Yes, he has to work on the 2.7 turnovers per game. But as a combo guard with electric potential, he’s got crazy upside. And him being one of the first players off the bench for an Illini team that could use scoring punch is the perfect fit for a team whose primary point guard isn’t the most electric scorer.
Gibbs-Lawhorn is getting the Hutcherson treatment. In other words, rumors of his prodigal abilities from fall workouts are ringing far and wide. He may have as much true upside of anyone on the roster, and using him as a complementary playmaker to Ty Rodgers could be the ideal foil come conference play.
The two are different players physically and stylistically. Coach Underwood likes versatility and providing multiple looks. So how about an alternate look who is an even bigger threat to score?
Build the offense around Ty’s tremendous intangibles.
There is a beautiful chaos to Ty Rodgers’ style on the court. He is at once cerebral and instinctive. He brings intensity and leadership to a team that needs both. He’s simultaneously vocal and physically impactful. He’s the walking manifestation of the attitude this team needs to embody to hit the next level.
So steer into the skid.
Sure, at points it will be a bumpy ride. There will be turnovers. There will be bad shots.
But there will be a ruthless dedication to winning every single fight on every single possession.
So having a floor general who is passionate about the program and ready to do anything to bring it to its zenith is a huge bonus.
I’m not going to speculate on who may or may not be a good person. But I do know that an offense built on relentless dedication to winning battles with a person capable of leading that arsenal as the primary facilitator would be a remarkable transition from last season.
There will be no confusion about what you’re going to get from the Illini night in and night out in terms of effort and aggression. That’s an identity. And that’s what Ty Rodgers is: the ultimate identity piece for a team that lacked any clear definition in the post-Ayo/Kofi years.