April 25 Illinois basketball chat

April 25 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - 12:30pm

The offseason is in full swing, so that means plenty of recruiting for Brad Underwood and his staff. Who are the top targets the Illini are going after? Will Illinois use its last scholarship for the 2018-19 season or push it back another year? When will the schedule for next season come out? Beat writer Scott Richey is chatting away at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday to answer all your questions.

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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Good afternoon everybody and welcome back to another offseason edition of our Illinois basketball chat. With a good number of questions already waiting for me (thanks in advance) and some Illini tennis interviews on my schedule coming up this afternoon, let's jump right in to what you want to know about Brad Underwood's squad ...

Kid Rock wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Scott,   The later it gets, do you think that means less likely we'll bring in a 5th yr big?  Or are they still beating the bushes, so to speak?  With AAU ball starting up, maybe a new prospect pops up at that position?  Do you think Matic is staying?  What did you learn from your interview with BU that surprised you, if anything?  Thanks as always for the chats.  

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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Kid Rock,

I don't think the possibility of adding a grad transfer big has passed completely for Illinois. After all, Mark Alstork didn't commit until late May. That said, there's not exactly a ton of viable big men available via that fifth-year market. Lots of guards, but that's not an Illini need. Of course, the transfer window isn't closed. Maybe another candidate does crop up in the next month or two.

Illinois' continued pursuit of frontcourt help especially of the incoming freshmen we can develop variety makes me wonder how much Matic Vesel is seen as a fit moving forward. However, as of this afternoon, he's still on the Illini roster. 

I think the thing that stood out to me the most was Da'Monte Williams being one of the clear leaders this spring. He comes off as a fairly reserved, quiet guy, but he's been much more vocal in workouts and, per Brad Underwood, isn't afraid to get on his teammates when necessary. The Illini need somebody to lead, so that's a good thing. All things considered, I think Williams is due for a big sophomore jump.


J Smith wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm

If Golden commits then technically we are out of scholarships for 2018. If another huge four star center for 2018 wants to come here can the University remove an existing players scholarship and force a transfer to make room?

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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J Smith,

Can Illinois remove a players' scholarship and force a transfer? In those words, a hard no. Scholarships are four-year guarantees now in the Big Ten. They can't be taken away save for some clear violation of school or team policy. You can't "force" a transfer.

However, scholarships tend to come open when needed. Coaches have candid conversations with players concerning, of many topics, playing time and fit. Players want to play. If it's not going to happen at one school, a transfer can create a more ideal situation. 

Illini Basketball Fan wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Scott -

What's in your crystal ball with Meyers Leonard with the Portland Trailblazers? Will he stay or be traded? The sudden collapse in the playoffs has fans and front office contemplating a variety of moves for the future. Would he be happy to be closer to home? Perhaps the Bulls, Pacers, or Bucks?



Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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Illini Basketball Fan,

Meyers Leonard is in a tough spot. So are the Trail Blazers. It became clear during Portland's first-round exit in the playoffs that Leonard wasn't really part of their plan given he got two DNPs in four games and played just 8 minutes total (although he made all four of his shots in those 8 minutes). It's a long way from 2014-15 and 2015-16 when he was turning into a viable frontcourt option before shoulder surgery.

Even if Portland isn't interested in playing Leonard, the Trail Blazers still have to pay him. He's owed about $22 million over the next two seasons before he's a free agent again, and the combination of that contract (when lots of teams already have bad contracts on the books) and a production level that slipped this past season mean's he's not an ideal trade candidate. 

That is, of course, unless Portland tacks his deal onto a tradeable asset (of which there are few) if the franchise is simply looking to shed some money with worse contracts on the books than Leonard's. That would be a step back and likely out of the playoff picture in the West, however.

It will be an interesting offseason for sure.

Anonymous User wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm

You had an article this week about the basketball played in Dallas this past weekend. It appears some of the best high school players were there playing for their AAU teams. I'm sure these teams pay all of the expenses to get their teams there. These teams have full time coaches and GM's.  Please tell us how this works. How do these teams make their money to do all of this and how are these players not in violation of NCAA rules when someone else pays their way?  Schools can't give them a meal but someone can pay their travels all over the country?

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm
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The three major basketball shoe companies (Nike, Under Armour and adidas) all sponsor the teams in their respective spring/summer leagues. That's how coaches are compensated and travel paid for. I get that it looks hinky, and in some cases it can be and is given the arrests last year related to college basketball. But, for comparative example, these same players have all of their uniforms, travel, etc., taken care of when they're in their high school seasons by their high schools where even if there is an athletic fee it wouldn't cover all expenses.

IlliniFanSinceTheSpoon wrote on April 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Hey Scott,

Do you think the Illini are holding that last scholly, hoping Okoro reclassify's and commits? What timeline does Okoro have to reclassify? Or is Purdue a lock for him?

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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Sure, the possibility Francis Okoro successfully reclassifies might have added a level of patience to how Illinois uses its final open scholarship. He would be a big add.

I've read up on some reclassification material and general NCAA eligibility requirements, but I'm certainly not an expert. I would think as long as Okoro has his academics in order in time to successfully enroll at whatever college he chooses, his reclassification timeline would be the same. 

I wouldn't say Purdue is a lock, but the Boilermakers are just as invovled as Illinois and have just as good a chance of landing the Normal West big man. In fact, Okoro is on an official visit in West Lafayette, Ind., this very moment. 


Elmer B Fudd wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Looks like Bryce Golden has taken 4 officials to Georgetown, Syracuse, Butler, and Illinois in recent weeks.   From your sources, do you have any indication as to when he will make his final decision and to whom he is leaning?

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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Elmer B Fudd,

I don't know of a firm timetable for Bryce Golden's decision, but it's clear from his multiple visits that he's doing his due diligence after getting his release from Pittsburgh. Syracuse is a threat, but Illinois has an interesting tie to the Golden family. His grandfather, Gary, was an assistant football coach for the Illini under Bob Blackman in the 1970s. Never hurts to have some history.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm

If no Golden or Okoro then who? A 5th year grad transfer?

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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A graduate transfer is a possibility, sure, but like I mentioned in a previous reply there are far more guards available than big men that could compete at the Big Ten level. On the high school prospect front, apparently the Maurice Calloo ship hasn't fully sailed.

While he didn't take an expected visit to Illinois earlier this spring, Calloo is reportedly still going to visit both Illinois and Ole Miss after canceling a visit at St. John's for this weekend. Here's the concern. Michigan, Georgia Tech and UConn are also in play, and Calloo has been quoted as saying Michigan is his "dream school." 

love the illini wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm

What do you think are the odds of Okoro reclassifying and do you think that helps or hurts Illinois chance of getting him? He looks like the big that Illinois has been missing the last few years and getting a recruit like him over the elite programs would help Illinois image with other recruits. Also what do you think is  a realistic expection for next year? To me it is another rebuilding year that if everything goes right maybe make the tourney as a low seed. 

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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love the illini,

Not to be flip, but the odds of Francis Okoro reclassifying are 50-50. He's either able to make it happen or he isn't. I'd say if he is able to make it happen, Illinois has a good pitch. The Illini frontcourt is a giant question mark at this point with no upperclassmen in the mix. Illinois could sell Okoro, who can help at least defensively right away, on playing time because no one has any guarantee at this point.

A realistic expectation for next season? I would say NIT over NCAA. Has Illinois added some talented players? Sure, but the Illini are going to be short on experience. Half the team will be learning Brad Underwood's system and playing Big Ten basketball for the first time. There will be bumps along the way.

ScottyDogg wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm

I have a peripheral question around Francis Okoro - how does a High School student reclassify to an earlier graduation date?  Has he been taking extra courses all along? Is he academically gifted and has "tested out" of some credits without actally taking those classes?

Does this have something specific to do with his being an athlete, or is he just following an existing path available is his school district that would be available to any student?

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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Reclassifying requires athletes being able to meet the NCAA's academic requirements by the high school graduation date of their to be eligible for that first season on campus.

Here are those academic requirements, copied and pasted directly from the NCAA website:

To be eligible to compete in NCAA sports during your first year at a Division I school, you must graduate high school and meet ALL the following requirements:

Complete 16 core courses:
Four years of English
Three years of math (Algebra 1 or higher)
Two years of natural/physical science (including one year of lab science if your high school offers it)
One additional year of English, math or natural/physical science
Two years of social science
Four additional years of English, math, natural/physical science, social science, foreign language, comparative religion or philosophy

Complete 10 core courses, including seven in English, math or natural/physical science, before your seventh semester. Once you begin your seventh semester, you may not repeat or replace any of those 10 courses to improve your core-course GPA.

Earn at least a 2.3 GPA in your core courses.

Earn an SAT combined score or ACT sum score matching your core-course GPA on the Division I sliding scale, which balances your test score and core-course GPA. If you have a low test score, you need a higher core-course GPA to be eligible. If you have a low core-course GPA, you need a higher test score to be eligible.

The key takeaways are the 16 core courses (having taken 7 classes per year as a high schooler myself this seems doable to me in 3 years) plus the right GPA/Standardized test score on the sliding scale. I would say most non-athletes aren't looking to reclassify, but as long as core academic requirements for graduation are met it would be possible.

In Francis Okoro's case, he did attend three different prep schools in the year-plus after he arrived in the U.S. before moving to Normal to be closer to family (his aunt and uncle) and transferring to Normal West. He could have taken care of some necessary academic requirements in that time.

Jujubee wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Where are we with the Ramey kid out of St. Louis? Is he still in the running?

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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I suppose, in theory, Illinois would still be in the running for Courtney Ramey, but for all intents and purposes not so much. Signing Andres Feliz and turning their attention to the likes of Bryce Golden, Francis Okoro and Maurice Calloo (all big men) signaled the end of the Ramey pursuit. Missouri is recruiting him hard, but Louisville might end up being his final destination after all after de-committing from the Cardinals after Rick Pitino was fired last fall. New coach Chris Mack is making a push and actually got Ramey on campus this week. 

Scott Richey wrote on April 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm
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Looks like that's it for this week's chat, leaving me enough time to finish off my tennis prep and head to campus. Thanks again to everyone that submitted questions or followed along. Next week's chat (same time, same place) should be interesting given my weekend plans (three days of EYBL basketball in Indiana). I should have plenty to discuss.

Until then, enjoy the week!