April 18 Illinois basketball chat

April 18 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 12:30pm

Why did Mark Smith transfer to Missouri? What will the 2019 Braggin' Rights game be like with the former Illini now playing for the Tigers? Who starts next season for Brad Underwood's program? Will Underwood add another player to the 2018 class? Beat writer Scott Richey is answering all your questions in his weekly 12:30 p.m. chat on Wednesday. Feel free to submit questions ahead of time.

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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Good afternoon everybody and welcome back to another offseason edition of our weekly Illinois basketball chat. Think the offseason has been busy so far? It only gets busier this weekend with the first spring evaluation period set to run Friday through Sunday. Future chats might have some new 2019 recruiting targets to discuss as the Illini coaching staff gets eyes on more 2019 and 2020 prospects.

This week's chat, meanwhile, already has several questions awaiting my answers. Let's get to it ...

Michael Turza wrote on April 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm

What does Coach Underwood do with his final remaining scholarship if Okoro ends up reclassifying to 2018? Does he stick with Golden or fight for Okoro?

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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This is an interesting line of thought to tackle. The crux is whether Brad Underwood feels he needs another 4 (Bryce Golden) or another 5 (Francis Okoro). My best guess would be Illinois prioritizes Okoro given his defensive abilities, and maybe his offensive game blossoms some more in college where he won't be facing a steady stream of triple teams like he does in high school. 

One thing to consider is the fact Okoro reclassifying is still just a possiblity at this point. It hasn't actually happened yet. He's the likely top priority, but trying to slow play Golden waiting for Okoro might mean losing out on the Maryland big man.

Of course, there also exists the possibility Illinois gets neither Golden nor Okoro. Just to throw that out there to cover all my bases. 

Bryan E DeJaynes wrote on April 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Hi Scott !! I have noticed everytime the Illini lately get a good player to commit as 3, 4, or 5 star player when they sign or commit the stars that had been given them always drop !!! A few cases Williams football star 5 , commits now 4 star, Bryce, which he has not commeted yet but has dropped to 3 star, just seems weird happens alot!!  And who would you like Bryce or Maurice Calloo ?  Thanks 

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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I hadn't seen that Isaiah Williams dropped to four stars until I saw your question, but that's ... interesting. That said, 247Sports bumped Alan Griffin to a three-star prospect (from unranked) recently, and Rivals elevated him into their Top 150. So the opposite can be true, too.

Anyway, between Bryce Golden and Maurice Calloo it might not matter which I like better since Calloo's visit was canceled this past weekend and Golden will actually be on campus tomorrow. Not taking that into consideration (or saying Golden's not talented), I like Calloo's combination of size and length, athleticism and shooting.

IlliniFanSinceTheSpoon wrote on April 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Hey Scott,

Lay it on us, Maurice Calloo profile, how did his visit go and chances to sign?

Since I was correct on Smith to Mizzou, I bet Ramey to Texas!

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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Since Maurice Calloo's visit was canceled/postponed and Illinois has since gotten an in-home with Francis Okoro and will have Bryce Golden on campus this week, I put Calloo's odds of signing with Illinois at not great. But his one Crystal Ball prediction on 247Sports is for Illinois, so maybe I'm wrong. Recruiting's weird. There's always a chance he still ends up an Illini.

I would imagine there will be plenty of happy Illinois fans if Courtney Ramey ends up at Texas instead of Missouri. We'll see if you go 2 for 2.

Khan El-Sanderz wrote on April 18, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Glad the current staff allowed Smith to transfer without restrictions.  But going to Missouri...ugh.  What are your thoughts on that coming back to haunt Illinois?  I guess the real question is, was his expectations of both his own performance and his potential too high?  If he was willing to buckle down and develop, who knows what he may have become.  But the need for immediate gratification....

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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Could Mark Smith at Missouri come back to haunt Illinois (at least in a Braggin' Rights game or three)? Sure, but I don't know how strong my feelings are on that. Smith's freshman season at Illinois certainly didn't play out like I expected. There were flashes of what he could be, but they were fleeting. He struggled defensively and, honestly, never looked comfortable on the court. Maybe he reaches his potential at Missouri, but he certainly didn't make a ton of strides toward that this past season.

Expectations for Smith in general were pretty high. From the coaching staff (see the comp to Jason Kidd). From the fan base. From us media folks trying to read the tea leaves on a player with no college experience and very little playing against elite level competition before that. 

Were we all wrong? We might find out starting in 2019-20.

Kevin H. wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

I saw/heard Underwood's comments recently about trying to recruit guys who fit his style - athletic, good passer, can attack the rim, can play multiple postions, etc.... but let's be real, what college coach isn't looking for guys with these skill sets?  That brings me to his 2018 class... I'll give him all the credit in the world for getting Ayo- that's a huge sign for the university.  Tevian Jones seems like a solid get as well.  However, the other 4 don't get me very excited.  I know Underwood doesn't like to look at rankings of players...fine.  Well let's look at the other schools who have made these guys offers (according to Rivals)

Alan Griffin – St Johns, Seton Hall

Samba Kane – Rutgers

Andres Feliz – No offers according to Rivals

Giorgi Bezhanishvili – Minnesota, Seton Hall

I left out all the mid and low major offers because that shouldn't take much effort to out recruit them.  If these guys are legit high level major college players then I would think that a lot better programs would be going after them.  That wasn't the case. 

It's just annoying hearing the fluff and cliche talk about how well these guys will fit into his system, when in reality it seems like these were the best guys Underwood could actually get.  Wasn't Mark Smith supposed to be a good fit? Was that bad scouting or Smith underperforming?  I don't want to start to even think about the big man situation.  Seems like it will be even worse than last year. It's a lot of inexperience of playing organized basketball in the U.S. between Ebo, Vesel, Kane and Bez.  Hard to imagine that's Underwood's ideal situation for his post play.

I guess I don't have a direct question but curious about your thoughts about my ranting.  Thanks for the chats.


Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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I can see your point. While elite level prospects aren't always sure things, the hit percentage on those is typically higher than the miss. I can see where more players of the Ayo Dosunmu caliber would provide a little more comfort to fans. But Brad Underwood wants to play a specific way, and he's seen something in all of his newest players (with some lengthy recruiting processes involved) that he feels will fit. He knows what that fit is better than anybody, and since you referenced Mark Smith I think he was a fit but how he fit wasn't what he wanted.

The frontcourt is still a huge question mark in my opinion as well given the inexperience. That was an issue for Illinois last season when it came to defense. In theory, a guy like Samba Kane could help change the "no rim protector" thing that became a problem for Illinois. Next season could be rough, though.

Just an aside, Alan Griffin might be a guy you'd want to bump up into that Ayo Dosunmu/Tevian Jones bracket. As he went on a tear at the end of his senior season, programs like Syracuse and Providence started showing a lot more interest. They were late to the party, though, and Griffin didn't flip.

Effrem Winters wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

It is clear that Underwood wants another big.  However,  he already has giorgi bezhanishvili and Vessel at 4 position and Kane and Ebo at 5.   I know it is great to add another player but my sense is Underwood does not have much faith in Vessel being a part of the program going forward.


My question is do you think Underwood will add another big and does Underwood see Vessel has having a future with Illinois?        

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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I do think Brad Underwood will add another big man given his continued pursuit of guys like Francis Okoro (in a possible reclassification scenario), Bryce Golden and Maurice Calloo. While Underwood has said on several occasions that Matic Vesel has shown some good things in practice, I don't know what Vesel's future at Illinois might hold. He's more of a wing (even at 6-foot-10) than a big just in terms of skill set, and I don't see him passing guys like Kipper Nichols or Tevian Jones at that spot.

Illini Alum "91" wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Are there some bitter feelings from former players like Finke and Lucas who did not attend the banquet?  Supposing we don't land a stellar forward, how will we fare in the Big Ten with these upgraded guards?

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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I wouldn't say there are hard feelings, especially from Michael Finke. Attending the banquet, in my opinion, might have been a little awkward. Brad Underwood spoke about each player in attendance. Yes, he could have done the same for the likes of Finke or Te'Jon Lucas, but then mention they won't be moving forward with the team next year? Maybe my "awkward radar" is too finely tuned, but that's how it would feel to me.

On paper, Illinois has made some upgrades at guard. I'm just curious to see how the mix of Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Andres Feliz, Da'Monte Williams, Aaron Jordan and Tevian Jones all work together on the court in whatever combination of two or three out there.

Nick M wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

How will the 3,4,5 spot look like last year

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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I'll be honest and say I have no idea. The fact Illinois can still add a player to its roster could change the current dynamic. Best guess at the moment with a small ball lineup perhaps being the Illini's best look? Tevian Jones at the 3, Kipper Nichols at the 4 and Samba Kane at the 5. If it's a more traditional lineup? Nichols, Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Kane. Maybe. Ask me again in October.

Anonymous User wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Hey Scott can you give us a little run down on the four volleyball transfers please.,. What was there roll or position.  Did any of them contribute last year? We’re any of them being counted in this year? Whatever insight you could provide would be welcome. Thanks

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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All four players who transferred played last season in varying degrees. Tyanna Omazic eventually worked her way into the rotation as the second middle blocker behind Ali Bastianelli and had the most production. Annika Gereau was the third defensive specialist behind Caroline Welsh and Morgan O'Brien but did play quite a bit and was also used as a serving specialist. 

Kylie Kuyava-Deberg actually started the season in the rotation at outside hitter, but she was eventually passed by Megan Cooney. Cooney went into the rotation at opposite, and Beth Prince moved to outside hitter. The last of the four, Marijke Van Dyke, played in just nine sets total.

I would have certainly expected Omazic to be back in the rotation at middle blocker getting plenty of playing time. The other three? Probably not so much.


Melissa Mathews wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Hi Scott,

I have volleyball questions today.  I’m concerned that we lost one of our starting middles in Omazic, who will replace her ?  I like Blake Hranika (sp), but feel she’s too small and gets over-matched by all the much taller middles in the league. Is there anyone else on the team who will get a shot ? 

Also, I haven’t heard Megan Cooney’s name mentioned during the spring matches, is she injured ? Sure hope she isn’t transferring.

Thank You

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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Volleyball questions are fine, and I can actually provide you some answers this time around. Thanks for coming back to the chat.

At this point, Ali Bastianelli and Blayke Hranicka are the only middles on the roster, and I don't see anybody making a position switch. Losing Tyanna Omazic hurts. Hranicka has good speed in the attack, which will be beneficial, but it's her blocking that will be challenged. Getting her into a rotation with Jordyn Poulter (easily one of the most physical setters in the country) next to her wouldn't hurt. Just for depth purposes alone in case of an injury, I'd say Chris Tamas needs to add another middle (and probably another pin hitter) before the start of the 2018 season. But that's just me.

Megan Cooney was dealing with a minor injury (ankle, I believe) so she was held out two weeks ago against Bradley as a precaution. I wasn't able to attend last Friday's match. Nothing serious, though.

Panera Guy wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm


I see we have Whitney locked in for an official visit. What do you put our chances at for possibly getting him?

Thanks for taking our questions today.

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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Panera Guy,

Not sure about an official visit for Kahlil Whitney, but Illinois is doing an in-home visit today. I think the Illini have as good a shot as anyone to land the 6-foot-7 wing. His profile has expanded nationally given his time playing high school ball for a powerhouse Roselle Catholic team in New Jersey, but he's a Chicago native and still plays AAU with Mac Irvin Fire. That tie could help Illinois.

Scott Richey wrote on April 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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Looks like that it's for another good offseason Illinois basketball chat. Thanks to everybody that submitted questions or followed along. We'll do it again next week. Same time, same place.

Until then, enjoy the week and maybe some actual spring weather!