Oct. 11 Illinois basketball chat

Oct. 11 Illinois basketball chat

Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 3:30pm

Will Ayo Dosunmu pick Illinois? What would a commitment from the state's top player in the Class of 2018 do for Brad Underwood's program? How did the team's media day go on Wednesday? Who's in the starting five when the season opens in a month? Will Underwood take the Illini back to the NCAA tournament? Anything is fair game as beat writer Scott Richey handles your questions in his weekly chat, which tips off at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Feel free to submit questions ahead of time.

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. Thanks for being patient with this week's chat. With Illinois basketball media day yesterday, there wasn't going to be a way to do the chat and accomplish everything else that needed to be done. So here I am 24 hours later with a free afternoon to answer all your Illini questions.

Let's get to it ...

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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Let's start with a question from Twitter:

Fillini Fan‏ (@oskeepinoy)
With the perceived depth at guard, do you anticipate more full and half court press?

Despite coming off the Bob Huggins coaching tree, Brad Underwood's defense is not the Huggins defense. Illinois won't be in constant full press mode. That said, Illinois has the athletes to press on occasion. Fans wanted John Groce to press more than he did, but it didn't really fit his pack line defense mode. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Illini do more of it under Underwood. Again, not full time, but some.

Khan El-Sanderz wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm

With the close but no cigar recruiting misses on a couple of inside players, what is the next move for the staff in a quest of a good 4 or 5?  If the new plan is 4 guards/wings and 1 big, are the recruiting misses for an inside body all that important?

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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Khan El-Sanderz,

I'm going to answer your last question first because I think it's the key one you asked. I got a chance to sit down with Brad Underwood 1-on-1 at the end of last week. Part of our conversation was about recruiting, and he told me that he wants to add another big man in the 2018 class. Yes, his emphasis is on backcourt players and it might seem like the Illini will have enough bigs in 2018-19, but recruiting is always about the future. Having a third experienced big in 2019-20 after Michael Finke and Leron Black are gone is important.

As far as the next move for the Illinois staff in landing a 2018 big, I would imagine a scholarship will be saved to get a big in the spring signing period if they're able to land a guard and a wing by next month. As this past spring proved, these days there's always players available after the basketball season concludes.


Bill-e-bob wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Hi Scott,

Always appreciate the chats.  Can you give us a full report on Brandi Donnelly's injury and how long she is likely to be unavailable to play?  Have you talked with her?  What is her mind-set at this point?  Thanks.

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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I was unable to attend volleyball media availability yesterday because of basketball. Since I haven't figured out how to be in two places at once yet, there was no chance for me to speak with Brandi Donnelly. I doubt she would have been made available anyway.

That said, Scott Beatty was on hand representing NG Media. Chris Tamas said Donnelly's "leg injury" wasn't as bad as was initially expected, but there was no immediate timetable on her return. He declined to provide further details.

mattk61 wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Volleyball question: As I write (Tuesday night), there's been no announcement on Brandi Donnelly's knee injury, but watching it happen and the way she couldn't put weight on it, it doesn't look like she'll be back any time soon. In what ways does this hurt the team, and how badly?  To what extent can they compensate?  (I like her replacement, Morgan O'Brien, a lot -- she looks like she would have had the position next year when Brandi graduated -- but this is still a big blow that will have ripple effects.)

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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Per my last response, Brandi Donnelly's injury was not as bad as expected but there was also no timetable for her return.

It's a blow for Illinois, of course. Donnelly has been the Illini's starting libero basically since the day she stepped foot on campus in January 2014 as an early enrollee. You don't replace an All-American caliber player easily. She makes plays I don't know that other defensive specialists can make.

Morgan O'Brien probably takes her place at libero starting tomorrow. That means either Annika Gereau or maybe Emmaline Walters/Lexie Smith fills O'Brien's spot. They're all capable, but the shifting does change the dynamic of the Illini defense. How could it not?

Anonymous Jim wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm

From what you have seen and heard, what will be the strengths and weaknesses of the men's basketball team this year?

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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Anonymous Jim,

Until I see this particular group of Illini actually play a game against another team, pinpointing true strengths and weaknesses is mostly assumptions and guessing. Illinois does have a number of versatile, dynamic guards in Mark Alstork, Mark Smith, Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams and Te'Jon Lucas. That's a strength. Good passers, too, including big men Matic Vesel and Michael Finke.

Weaknesses right now are overall experience. Several of the players expected to get significant minutes/fill roles haven't played a game of college basketball yet. I also wonder about post defense. 

The true start of the season — now less than a month away — will reveal more.

Zekiah Swamp wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Why has Google labeled IlliniHQ as a "Deceptive Site"?  Each time I click on the site I get the following warning:

"This web page at www.illinihq.com has been reported as a deceptive site and has been blocked based on your security preferences. Deceptive sites are designed to trick you into doing something dangerous, like installing software, or revealing your personal information, like passwords, phone numbers or credit cards.
Entering any information on this web page may result in identity theft or other fraud. Advisory provided by Google Safe Browsing."

Is it possible for you to determine who reported IlliniHQ as deceptive? 

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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Zekeiah Swamp,

Our IT department is aware of IlliniHQ.com being labeled a "deceptive site" and is working to sort out the issues there. The belief is the issue started in the HQ forums and spread since that and the main site are obviously connected. 

I'm told the issue should be resolved in the next week or two (part of it depends on Google, too). Until then, all of our Illini coverage can still be accessed. You just need to go with the following URL:


Blakeste wrote on October 12, 2017 at 3:10 pm

What's goin on Scotty! I'd like to ask about areas of weakness for Lovie's group and any recuiting targets on the horzion that would drive them toward that? Also, who'll do coverage on Fahey and company this season? Ciao! 

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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I could probably pinpoint a couple positions of concern for Lovie Smith's Illinois football team. Quarterback is certainly on that list, but the Illini appear to have addressed that with Coran Taylor and M.J. Rivers. 

Defensively, the issue has been pretty clear so far this season. The soft middle of the Illinois defense has been exploited (see Nebraska's Tanner Lee and Iowa's Nate Stanely completing an insane percentage of way too easy passes). That can be addressed by targeting quicker linebackers more able to drop into coverage and continuing to upgrade the secondary.

Illinois has commitments from three 2018 defensive backs so far, but is going after St. Louis product Dallas Craddieth for a reason. He'd make the secondary better. Linebacker commit Khalan Tolson might fit the bill for what the Illini are looking for, too. He's a good athlete.

In terms of 2019 recruiting goes, here are the position breakdowns by players offered (via Scout info) to get an idea about priorities:

QB — 4
RB — 7
WR — 17
TE — 2
OL — 9
DE — 7
DT — 2
LB — 9
CB — 7
S — 5
ATH — 7

Our women's basketball coverage for 2017-18 is in the capable hands of Bob Asmussen. Considering I've still managed to cover at least a game or two the past two seasons, though, don't be surprised to see my byline. 

LifetimeIllini wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm


Thanks for the Chats.  My biggest question about this years basketball team is their ability to defend the post against bruisers like Hass or agile bigs like Wagner.  I think we will be able to score and defend the perimeter guards.  Any idea how Underwood will approach defending some of the better big men in the Big10?  Will he double the Post or play any zone?

I am looking forward to the season.



Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Brad Underwood's up-tempo offense isn't the only change he's making to the Illini. Gone is John Groce's pack line defense, which wasn't always a success. In its place is a defensive system built on denying everything. Best way to stop or slow down some of the better bigs in the Big Ten is to either not let them get the ball or make them get it in tough spots where they don't have an advantage. 

Everybody plays some zone these days. I don't know that Illinois will play a ton. And from what I've seen in practice, post doubles are part of the defensive game plan. They're not automatic, of course, but they're used when the situation calls for it.

Elmer Fudd wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Really think Elias Valtonen would be a great addition to this illini basketball team.   How did his visit go last Tuesday?  What are you thoughts on him as a player in Coach Underwood's system?  What are the chances of him picking the Illini?

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Elmer Fudd,

I would say Elias Valtonen had a good official visit. He got a chance to be a media day observer yesterday, and it looked like he was enjoying himself during the lighter moments of the afternoon before practice started. Then he was an active observer and looked engaged. Geoff Alexander spent time talking with him during practice, and so did Brad Underwood.

From what I understand, Valtonen is a good shooter and passer and has a high basketball IQ. That fits with what Underwood wants.  As far as his chances of picking Illinois, it's still 50-50. It's either the Illini or Arizona State.

Elmer Fudd wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Saw that Bryan Penn Johnson has scheduled an official visit to Depaul.   Do you think Underwood and his staff are recruiting him heavily?  I think he would be a fantastic "big" for the Fighting Illini.   What have you heard?  Your thoughts on him as a player?

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Elmer Fudd,

Illinois is still recruiting Bryan Penn-Johnson, but I don't know how heavily. DePaul appears to be the leader at this point, but recruiting is fluid. If he makes it past this weekend and the start of next week without committing, that obviously is a good sign for everybody that's not the Blue Demons.

I like his size — 7-foot with just crazy long arms — and he has the frame that can hold up to adding some weight so he can get stronger. He can really defend the rim. Has pretty good hands offensively. Runs the floor OK. I think he's got some real potential and would be a three- or four-year guy that could be really good in those final years.

Elmer Fudd wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Huge recruiting week for Fighting Illlini Basketball!  Elias Valtonen here on Tuesday and Five star guard Ayo Dosunmu on Friday.  Both recruits are saying Illinois is in their final two.  How big would it be to secure both of these ultra talented players?   Would securing Dosunmu help with future recruiting efforts?uu

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Elmer Fudd,

If Illinois got both Elias Valtonen and Ayo Dosunmu, that would be a pretty good haul. Valtonen could be considered a top 75 caliber player. Dosunmu, of course, is a top 20 guy. And landing Dosunmu could certainly help with future recruiting efforts. A common theme on the recruiting front is top prospects wanting to play with other top prospects. Dosunmu could help Illinois not only in rounding out its 2018 class, but in future classes as well.

Honeywood wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm


Thanks again for checking in. I know this is a busy week for the Illini faithful, so I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.

It looks like Coach Underwood wants to push the pace this season. I always heard that's what Groce wanted to do (based on his success with DJ Cooper at Ohio), but it seems like Coach Underwood actually has the guards to make that real. So with the emphasis on quick shots, how are Illinois' bigs progressing with their shooting? I know Finke came in with a rep as a potential stretch 4/5 and Black took more outside shots last year, but do they look to be at a level needed to succeed in this offense?


On the football side, I'm here in Minneapolis and will be there in a few weeks when the Illini come to play the Gophers. I am concerned about the QB depth chart. I was unsure of Cam Thomas' status, so I was hoping you could clarify. Is he being redshirted? Is his suspension still ongoing or is he back on the active roster?

Thank you again Scott.

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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John Groce talked about playing a more up-tempo style a lot. It never happened. Based on what I've seen from Brad Underwood's practices, it's going to happen this season for the Illini.

As far as the Illinois bigs and their shooting abilities, Michael Finke, of course, is a good shooter. Underwood said he might be the team's best perimeter shooter even. Leron Black's shot improved last season, and he spent a lot of his offseason further honing it. Matic Vesel is also a shooter. Greg Eboigbodin, well, he won't be asked to do that much. 

On the football front, Cam Thomas has not played yet this season — meaning his redshirt is still intact — but that doesn't mean it will stay that way. I get the feeling the Illinois staff wants to use him. Will they? It depends on how Jeff George Jr. fares in the next couple games. Thomas was suspended for the Nebraska game, but it was a short suspension apparently. He was back last week and was the No. 2 quarterback heading into the Iowa game — a spot he still occupies.

Brian Jeoger wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Way early, but what is your thinking on depth chart.  With a full summer of workout, how much stronger will Lucas be and will his outside shot improve (how can it not)?

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Brian Jeoger,

Brad Underwood would agree with you that it's way early to think about who plays and how much they play. He basically said as much yesterday during his media day press conference. But I'm always willing to deal in hypotheticals. Before I lay out a depth chart, from my conversations with Te'Jon Lucas he spent this past offseason refining his offensive game. A big part of that was his ability to finish around the rim, but his three-point shot got some work, too. I thought he was a better three-point shooter in high school than he showed last season. There's potential there.

Anyway, here's my too early/probably wrong depth chart:

1 — Lucas, Smith, Frazier, Williams

2 — Smith, Frazier, Williams, Jordan

3 — Alstork, Nichols, Smith, Jordan

4 — Black, Nichols, Vesel

5 — Finke, Black, Eboigbodin, Vesel

IlliniFansinceTheSpoon wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Hey Scott,

Ayo Dosunmu, Danny Manning, Wake, ACC. Illini really have a chance?

On a side note, have you heard of Nick Weatherspoon?

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Yes, Illinois really has a chance at Ayo Dosunmu.

And I have heard of Nick Weatherspoon. He was obviously a little before my time, but how could you not be aware of the career he had at Illinois?

In fact, he came up in conversation with myself and Loren Tate on Monday. We were discussing basketball players almost expecting to play right away as a freshmen these days, and Loren mentioned Weatherspoon — even with the Illini career he had in three seasons — could have played as a freshman and probably would have been one of the best players on the team. 

Gregg G wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Initially it seemed Williams was a redshirt candidate coming off the knee surgery. Based on BU's comments am I correct in assuming he is counting Williams to be a fairly significant contributor?  Are there any non injury related redshirt candidates with this freshmen class?  How concerned are they about the Lucas concussion situation?

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Gregg G,

Yeah, I don't think Da'Monte Williams is going to redshirt this season. I don't know that any of the Illini freshmen will, to be honest. I think those guys will all play. It sort of depends on how deep a rotation Underwood ultimately runs. He could get away with redshirting one of the freshman bigs, but I don't know that he will.

Obviously, a concussion can be a serious issue, but I don't know that Te'Jon Lucas' is a major concern. It hasn't been discussed that way yet, at least. The main thing is he's a young guy that can still really benefit from every rep he can get. 

Anonymous User wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

May I please sneak in a volleyball question? Any word on Brandi Donnelly’s injury?

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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A somewhat more detailed response can be found in my earlier answers to this question. But, in short, it's not as serious as first expected, but there's not timetable for her return.

teachdacc2 wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm



A volleyball question:  How big an impact will the loss of Brandi have on the team?  Looking in your crystal ball  do you see Ayo committing to the Illini?  Can you give an assessment of the team so far?  


Keep up the great chats!

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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Check out some of my previous answers for an update on Brandi Donnelly.

As far as Ayo Dosunmu goes, there are a lot of good feelings out there for the Illini when it comes to landing the five-star point guard out of Morgan Park. My crystal ball? It still sees it as a 50-50 proposition. Either he commits or he doesn't. It's the safe way out of answering your question, but how often are some of the crystal ball predictions wrong?

Bwp5p wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Hi Scott!

Have you been to the Practices? How are they looking? Are the Newcomers going to help us be a sleeper team, and surprise some people?

Really Looking forward to the Season. We'll be there every game!


Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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I've seen a couple practices and hope to see more when I'm not covering football, volleybal and basketball simultaneously. The true test comes in about a month when Illinois plays somebody else, but I'm seeing good things in practices. The newcomers are going to contribute for sure, and as far as "surprise" players I might go with Da'Monte Williams. After Illinois landed Trent Frazier and especially Mark Smith, Williams became kind of the forgotten third guard, but he's looked really good from what I've seen.

Scott Richey wrote on October 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm
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That's it for today's chat. Lots of good questions, so a big thank you to everybody that submitted one. Thanks, as well, to anyone that followed along. Plenty more Illini coverage coming your way from Bob Asmussen and yours truly in the next couple days — especially with Saturday's Illinois football game against Rutgers. We'll both be there bright and early Saturday morning, and I'll be sure to tweet out when I see Ayo Dosunmu at Memorial Stadium for you curious Illini basketball fans.

The chat will be back to its regular date and time next week most likely, so see you all again at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Until then, enjoy the week!