Aug. 3 Illinois basketball & football chat

Aug. 3 Illinois basketball & football chat

Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 11:00am

Our basketball beat writer has officially added Illinois football to his coverage responsibilities, opening him up for questions on both Illini sports. Want to find out what caught his attention at football training camp so far this week? Interested in his take on the Illini basketball Big Ten schedule? Have volleyball or soccer questions? Scott Richey is your go-to option for all things Illini in his weekly chat — temporarily moved to 11 a.m. Thursday from its regular slot. Either way, the 2017-18 athletic year is officially underway. Send him all your Illini questions.

Scott Richey wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am
Profile Picture

Good morning everybody. Sorry for the delay in this week's chat. I intended to knock it out yesterday per usual, but was writing all afternoon and when I stopped to head to Day 3 of Illinois football training camp realized I had completely spaced on the chat.

But there's time to attack it now before I hit Ubben to talk with Brad Underwood and then Day 4 of training camp this afternoon. A busy Thursday for sure.

With a handful of questions waiting for me, let's get to it ...

offense wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am

I am excited ti see one of Lovie's top freshman on the practice field, wide receiver Ricky Smalling.  What is his status?  When will we see him on the field?

Scott Richey wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am
Profile Picture


You're not the only one interested in seeing Ricky Smalling on the practice field. We're all still waiting, of course. We initially found out Smalling wouldn't start training camp with the Illini on Sunday at media day when Lovie Smith said he had been excused for personal reasons. Through three days of camp, that's held true. I asked Smith about Smalling last night, and he didn't have many details to share other than saying Smalling would be here eventually. So it's still a waiting game for the four-star wide receiver out of Brother Rice.

Anonymous User wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am

Zion Griffin has come out of nowhere with alot of work...where do you think he will get ranked? Is he better of a recruit than say THT as far as talent/needs for the team?

How do you feel about in order Griffin/Ayo/Pearson/Conditt for this class? Reasonable/Realistic?

Scott Richey wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am
Profile Picture


If a few more high majors come in with offers (just Illinois and Iowa State currently), I could see Zion Griffin potentially jump into the top 150 in the 2018 class. He showed the last couple weeks of July that he could hold his own against some of the top talent in the country in his class. That's where the increased interest comes into play. We'll see when the new rankings come out how much last month helped him.

I would still have Talen Horton-Tucker ahead of Griffin, though, on the Illini board. Griffin projects as a wing at the college level (if his three-point shooting from July wasn't a fluke), but he played mostly inside at Hinsdale South last year. From what I understand, ball handling is still a work in progress, although something that can be improved given time. Horton-Tucker has that dribble-pass-shoot combo Illinois seems to be looking for now. As far as similarities go, both Horton-Tucker and Griffin are weird positional fits, but that's less of an issue these days it seems.

I think Illinois landing any of the four players you listed or some combination of them is reasonable and realistic. Will it happen? Who knows? That's recruiting. But Ayo Dosunmu is a clear top priority, and Illinois is right there for the top 25 national prospect. The other three — Griffin, Tamell Pearson and George Conditt — all have some competition among other Illini targets. Brad Underwood clearly has options.

Arch 1973 wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am

Could you ask Lovie who his 4x100 relay would be.

Scott Richey wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am
Profile Picture

Arch 1973,

I'd probably have to word that differently to get the answer you're looking for out of Lovie Smith. Maybe if it was a question about the fastest/quickest guys on the team. 

Even though you didn't ask for my 4x100 team, I'm going to give it to you anyway. I've got Carmoni Green in the leadoff spot followed by Ra'Von Bonner, Cameron Watkins and Julian Hylton at the anchor. Those guys can all fly (and the last three all have track experience, so maybe they avoid a dropped baton).

MikeM wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am

Hey, Scott. One of the many things I like about Brad Underwood's approach to basketball is that he doesn't want a roster of players that replicate each other; he ideally wants as many different types of players as possible. Wanted to know what your thoughts were on how this Illinois roster jives with that philosophy. Because to me, even though he had limited input on the construction of this roster, it looks like Illinois has that. If you were to give a quick description of each player, they all look a little different:

Lucas: pass-first PG, pure distributor

Smith: big, physical do-everything combo guard that fits with any lineup

Alstork: slashing, scoring wing

Black: old-school PF with a face-up game

Finke:stretch 4/5

Frazier: score-first combo guard

Jordan: catch and shoot wing (ideally would be a 3-and-D)

Nichols: small-ball 4


The other freshmen, it's a little harder to say exactly what profile they'll fit this season. But this, along with the sizable X's and O's upgrade from the head coaching position, is one of the main reasons I'm pretty confident this is comfortably a tournament team this season. There are multiple ballhandlers, lots of shooters, and I think just as importantly, not much overlap in terms of player type. Even though there's no Jawun Evans-type superstar, I think Illinois could be fairly similar to last year's OK State team. If Underwood can get 86 ppg and the No. 1 offense in Kenpom out of that roster, I think 80 ppg and a top 20 offense is doable with this roster. Much like OSU last year, I think we'll struggle a lot defensively, but be able to score with almost anyone. Your thoughts?


Scott Richey wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am
Profile Picture


You've got yourself a good breakdown going there. I'll help you fill it out with the other three freshmen. Da'Monte Williams is like a cross between Frazier and Smith. Bigger than Frazier and probably falls between the two on the distributor scale. Greg Eboigbodin is the rim runner/rim protector big man. Matic Vesel is ... well, I still don't know.

If Brad Underwood's new scheme and system can eliminate what became almost predictable 5-8 minute scoring droughts during the final years of the John Groce era, that alone will lead to an uptick in offensive production. Those stretches of just nothing on offense became pretty common the past two seasons.

I do think you're correct in the fact Illinois' offense will be ahead of its defense in 2017-18. But you can still win games giving up points. You just have to score more. How Mark Alstork transitions up a level to the Big Ten will be important in how effective the Illini offense. So will how the freshmen — who should play and possibly hold big roles — do transitioning up a couple levels from high school. But sure. Plenty of ball handlers on the roster, some guys that can slash and score and a crop of shooters. I can see that.

I'm not sure I'm ready — as of Aug. 3 — to say Illinois is "comfortably" an NCAA tournament team, but maybe the Illini find themselves back in it for the first time since 2013. I'd say bubble team right now. I need to see more of this group in the Underwood system. 

teachdacc2teac wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am


Haven't seen or read much about Jeff George. Is he #2 at QB? How is he doing?  How are the receivers, can they get separation?


Thanks for your insight.  

Scott Richey wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am
Profile Picture


I would say, yes, Jeff George Jr. is the No. 2 quarterback on the Illinois depth chart. That's more a product of the next two in line are a converted running back (Cam Miller) and a freshman quarterback (Cam Thomas) that is three days into his college career. I've actually been fairly impressed by Miller and Thomas, though, in the early days of training camp.

George fared better Wednesday than he did on Tuesday, which was a rough day in general for the Illinois offense. He just needs reps. All of them do, Chayce Crouch included, who even as the No. 1 doesn't exactly have a load of game reps under his belt.

Here are some quick thoughts I've jotted down during the last few days on some wide receivers ...

Malik Turner — Catching everything that comes his way

Mikey Dudek — Getting limited reps, but the way he's moving he's 100 percent back

Carmoni Green — FAST

Kendall Smith — Impressed by the separation he gets, made a nice one-handed catch Wednesday


Scott Richey wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am
Profile Picture

Looks like that's it for questions for this week's chat. Going to shut it down and turn my attention to a busy afternoon of Illinois football AND basketball coverage. Be sure to check out Friday's N-G and here at for more from Bob Asmussen and myself on football and another hoops update. I'm crossing my fingers and toes (but not super hopeful) the full nonconference schedule is released today.

Scott Richey wrote on August 03, 2017 at 11:08 am
Profile Picture

UPDATE: So after not checking Twitter while I chatted, Illinois actually did release it's nonconference schedule. Oops. Check it out here.