May 8 Illinois basketball chat

May 8 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 12:30pm

Next season's Illinois basketball roster might not be finalized just yet (will TJ Holyfield say yes?), but that doesn't mean there isn't a focus on the 2020 class and future Illini rosters. While the Illinois coaching staff won't be at this weekend's Nike EYBL event in Westfield, Ind., after a change in the recruiting calendar, beat writer Scott Richey will. Before he goes, though, he'll answer all of your Illini hoops questions. Which 2020 recruit (or recruits plural) is Illinois prioritizing? Who might have a breakout weekend like New York guard R.J. Davis did in Atlanta? What about 2021 prospects? Richey will tackle all of your queries starting at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 12:05 pm
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Good afternoon everybody and welcome back to the chat. It's been an eventul 24 hours for Illinois basketball, with Anthony Higgs announcing his intent to transfer and then the Illini missing out on junior college All-American Tomas Woldetensae (although he did pick the new NCAA champs by committing to Virginia).

There really isn't an "offseason" by the truest definition of that word. College basketball never stops. And neither does that chat (as long as I'm not on vacation). Several questions are already waiting for me, so let's get to it.

BrianAn wrote on May 08, 2019 at 12:05 pm

1) why can't the coaches go to eybl?

2) will there be a United center game this season?

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 12:05 pm
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1) Coaches can attend EYBL events and did just that the final weekend of April in Atlanta. They just can't go to the one this weekend in the Indianapolis suburbs. The recruiting calendar changed this year to move the May evaluation periods to June. So instead of hitting shoe brand events this month, coaches will be allowed to attend the NBAPA Top 100 camp next month in addition to events sponsored by high school athletic associations in individual states. 

2) Maybe? There's been no official word on a game other than if it does happen it will not be a Big Ten game. I believe everyone came to the conclusion that giving up a home game to play Ohio State in Chicago was a mistake.

kfc wrote on May 08, 2019 at 12:05 pm

  What holding up Holyfield's decision, not looking good.  Also same for Woldetensae!   Do Illini have a better than a "punchers chance" with Caleb Love?  Any other recruiting news to feel good about?  

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 12:05 pm
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Maybe TJ Holyfield wanted to take a little time to fully evaluate his options after finishing his final visit at Illinois this past weekend? Seems like a fairly mature thing to do in my book rather than make a snap decision on fairly important life change. The Illini have a really good shot to add him, and it's one that got better in the last few days with Kansas taking a commitment from Tristan Enaruna (same position) and landing the final visit for grad transfer Rayjon Tucker. That still leaves Texas Tech, though, and the Red Raiders can sell both playing time and the fact Chris Beard has led them to the Elite Eight and national championship game in the last two seasons.

The perils of an early submitted question ... Tomas Woldetensae made his decision. To commit to Virginia.

Puncher's chance is probably the fair way to describe Illinois' pursuit of Caleb Love. The Illini are all in, but he's also not the only lead guard they're pursuing in the 2019 class. Adam Miller, DJ Steward and Nimari Burnett are also in the picture. Here's the thing, though. If and when Duke decides it's ready to offer the CBC point guard, that changes the dynamic of Love's recruitment. 

Other recruiting news? Well, Illinois is running out of priority options to fill out the 2019-20 roster beyond Holyfield save for some new names popping up, and it's too soon for most 2020s to start making decisions. Just 12 of the top 100 have committed.

slammo wrote on May 08, 2019 at 12:05 pm

Hi Scott, 

What is going on with the Iowa defections that we keep hearing about? Any chance Illini have a shot with Isiah Moss? 

Also, any update on Tomas Woldetensae and where the staff sit with him? Thank you for hosting these and your monday podcasts. Have a wonderful day. 

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 12:05 pm
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Iowa has lost three players so far this offseason, and I'd say Isaiah Moss is the only surprise. Tyler Cook nearly turned pro a year ago, and Maishe Daily hardly played (and will probably do more of that at now that he's going to Akron). Moss is new to the transfer portal having announced not even a week ago. 

Tomas Woldetensae is headed to Virginia. Can't fault his choice.

Which perhaps opens the door for Illinois to pursue Moss. It makes some sense given he shot a career high 42 perceent from three-point range in 2018-19 and at 6-foot-5 and 208 pounds adds some size in the backcourt. Moss also lit up Illinois in January in Iowa City. Plus, he went to Simeon. Reconnecting with that program, particularly with Ahamad Bynum and AJ Casey targets in the 2021 and 2022 classes, respectively, wouldn't be a bad thing. Will it happen? We'll see.

Bluegrass illini wrote on May 08, 2019 at 12:05 pm

with higgs and January gone and Robinson signing with Tennessee it feels ifwe don’t get Holyfield or Tomas along with Kouma signing Illini is again scrambling to put together a roster that has any length of time to get orienated with Underwood’s system or even play for 2 years together . This could be a downside to any length of tenure for Underwood going forward I believe he can win and can get kids just not in a timely fashion!   It’s not like we are getting 4 one and dones however recruiting is improving I just hope wins and time are on his side!!


Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Well, at least TJ Holyfield is still an option now that Tomas Woldetensae is headed to Virginia. The latter does reset Illinois' pursuit of a player of that ilk (i.e. a shooter). There's a scholarship available for just that situation, but the "scramble" nature of the spring is what happens when nobody signs in November. It's a solid tactic to leave some scholarship flexibility for the spring with the number of players consistently on the move, but building entire classes on spring signings just doesn't seem sustainable to me and especially not for a team that went 12-21 a year ago and is still in a rebuild.

But maybe it will work out. With no other departures so far other than Anthony Higgs, you can build a pretty solid rotation (on paper) by returning the core of last year's team and adding Kofi Cockburn. Beyond roster building, though, Illinois has to win more games in the 2019-20 season. That's kind of the bottom line. 

teachdacc2 wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Scott,  Thanks again for the chats.  Do you go out to see any of the potential recruits when AAU shoot outs are in the area?  Regarding VB,  how do you see the roster shaping up regarding rotations and playing time?  I am amazed that Coach T can keep the players involved and moral up when so many are elite athletes coming into the program as "queen" of the hill from their prior programs.  He has to be one of the best in the country; how much of a role in team cohesiveness does his wife play as a volunteer coach?  


Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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I'm actually headed to Westfield, Ind., this weekend (Friday through Sunday) to check out a number of Illinois basketball recruiting targets. I'll have the opportunity to see 36 prospects (mostly 2020 but a few 2021). Illinois is also going to host one of the new recruiting events in July, so that's pretty convenient, too.

Chris Tamas told me yesterday's additions of Alyssa Eske, Madi Chi and Bruna Vrankovic finalized the 2019 roster. So there's that. In terms of the rotation? Here's a quick guess based on the Illini running a 5-1:

OH ... Jacqueline Quade (six rotations)
OH ... Beth Prince OR Bruna Vrankovic
OPP ... Megan Cooney
MB ... Ashlyn Fleming
MB ... Rylee Hinton
S ... Mica Allison OR Diana Brown
L ... Morgan O'Brien
DS ... Taylor Kuper, Caroline Welsh

Obviously not everyone will play. Not everyone played last season. The coaching staff gets some credit for how tight the team was (and still is), but the players have to get just as much or more. They've bought into the team mentality, and maybe competing at a high level (even if it's just practice) and the environment and culture and education at Illinois is enough.

Hard to separate the importance of one assistant from another. The Illinois coaching staff has struck me as just as tight knit a group as the players.

MIKE FOSTER wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Any word on Kouma signing?

Losing a player is never good but it feels like we never really had Higgs and if this allows us to get a good grad transfer it might turn out to be a good thing for player and program.

What do you make of the roster as assembled? I don't see anyone esle transferring. Who's the next priority?

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Other than Bernard Kouma hasn't signed yet but the expectation is he still does, I don't have much of an update. While the spring signing period does end May 15, that wouldn't keep Kouma from still being an Illini. He could just sign scholarship paperwork rather than a National Letter of Intent.

The Illinois roster as currently assembled is one that should be able to win more than 12 games in 2019-20. That's based on expected sophomore leaps by last season's freshmen, Andres Feliz playing like he did at the end of the season rather than how he did at the start of Big Ten play and Kofi Cockburn's physicality making a difference in the post. No one will know for sure if all of that means more wins, though, until they actually. Having a solid roster on paper isn't worth, well, much of anything.

Next priority? Still TJ Holyfield. After that, future recruiting. Time to go to work on locking down at least part of the 2020 class. 

Khan al-Sanderz wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm

I know every visit goes marvelously.  I guess that's the plan, at least.  

Did this last visit go well enough to add a player?  If Holyfield doesn't sign, what are your predictions for the next options?  I know adding size depth is never a problem but at least they are adding some of that anyway no matter what.


Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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I guess we'll find out if TJ Holyfield's visit went well enough. He's got to weight what works best for him ... a system and coach he knows or programs that have much more recent success? The thing about Holyfield compared to the likes of Kofi Cockburn and Bernard Kouma is he's a different type of big. At 6-foot-8 and 227 pounds Holyfield is a more dynamic athlete than the other two and adds a different wrinkle to the frontcourt beyond sheer size.

If Holyfield winds up at Kansas or Texas Tech, I'm not sure there's another option at that spot given Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua committed to Tennessee. Maybe it's add a shooter (not sure who that would be either) and leave an open scholarship for either the 2020 class or a potential mid-year addition because next year's transfer market opens as soon as the 2019-20 season starts.

Craig Vodnik wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Can you explain the official visit rule for total visits in a 12 month period and what the difference is between an OV and an unofficial? 

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Schools are allowed a set number of official visits (15, I believe) in a 12-month span. Once they're used up, they're used up. Any other visit by a recruit has to be of the unofficial variety. Here's the breakdown of the distinction between the two types of visits straight from the NCAA  ...

"Any visit to a college campus by a college-bound student-athlete or his or her parents paid for by the college is an official visit. Visits paid for by student-athletes or their parents are considered unofficial visits.

During an official visit the college can pay for transportation to and from the college for the student-athlete, lodging and three meals per day for the student-athlete and his or her parents or guardians, as well as reasonable entertainment expenses including three tickets to a home sports event.

The only expenses a college-bound student-athlete may receive from a college during an unofficial visit are three tickets to a home sports event."

Brian Reidy wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm

It seems like losing Higgs is a blessing for the Illini, was leaving his own idea or strongly sugested by  Underwood?  Anyone else to enter transfer portal, Kipper or Samba maybe?  Who do you see taking the two open roster spots?  

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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That as of last month, per Brad Underwood, Anthony Higgs had yet to be cleared to even go through a workout the idea of him actually playing for Illinois seemed slim to none. Based on what Higgs posted on social media it seems like an amicable parting of ways, but I'd say you can count on there being no official reason given from the Illinois side. 

As of now, there don't seem to be any plans for more transfers out of Illinois, and considering the Illini's lack of success (at least so far) in adding to the 2019-20 roster those guys you mentioned could still be important at least in terms of depth. Illinois certainly wants TJ Holyfield to fill one of the open scholarships, and if the Illini can't find a shooter for the second I wouldn't be surprised to see it stay open.

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Got an extra question via email ...

From John: Higgs has been a mystery to Illini fans. Was there something deeper than the foot injury? Are other major schools interested in him?

Illinois never openly discussed anything more than his foot injury. Considering he just hit the transfer portal and didn't play a single minute of college basketball last season with what appears to be a lingering foot problem, I wouldn't think Higgs would have a lot of interest at this point. We'll see what happens.

Scott Richey wrote on May 08, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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That's it for today's chat. Thanks to everybody that submitted a question and to everybody that just followed along. Keep an eye out this weekend for plenty of coverage from the Nike EYBL event in Westfield, Ind., with a slew of Illini recruiting targets descending on the Indianapolis suburb.

The chat will return next Wednesday. Same time, same place. Until then, enjoy the week!