May 15 Illinois basketball chat

May 15 Illinois basketball chat

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 12:30pm

Beat writer Scott Richey just spent three days watching some of the top prospects in the country, a number of which Illinois has offered. Future rosters will be built with some of them. The current roster? Well, the Illini are still trying to round out their 2019-20 group. That task took a hit when graduate transfer TJ Holyfield picked Texas Tech instead of Brad Underwood and Illinois. Who else could the Illini target? What are the biggest needs? Is it time to start thinking about the 2020 class to try and minimize this type of spring effort a year from? Richey will answer these questions and more in his weekly chat set for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 12:05 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. Sorry for the delay in getting started this afternoon, but I was putting together our reflection on the career of longtime Illinois basketball staffer Rod Cardinal. Just a terrific guy quick with a hello or a kind word. 

But you've got some Illini basketball questions for me, so let's get right to the chat ...

slammo wrote on May 15, 2019 at 12:05 pm

Who amongst the transfer portal is even still available at this point? (Moss stated he will not be transferring within the Big Ten) is Illinois targeting anyone to add a warm body to this group? 

Also, if Illinois doesn't add anyone for next year, will that leave 5 open scholarships (and that's with no attrition) for the following year? Sounds like we'll wind up having a, "we're too young" seasons again. It's pathetic. 

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 12:05 pm
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slammo,

I've done some scouring of the transfer market. It's not exactly overflowing with guys that could make an impact (even a moderate one) at the Big Ten level. The best player still available is probably Virginia Tech transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., but from what I read he's likely to just keep his name in the NBA draft. Illinois hadn't been tied to him anyway. 

Illinois clearly has some needs in regard to the 2019-20 roster (an athlete at the power forward spot and another shooter), but I'm just not sure that player is out there right now at either position. However, with Michigan potentially about to jumpstart the coaching carousel again if they replace John Beilein from the college ranks, that could have a trickle down effect and more players might become available.  Having open scholarships during this upcoming season, though, means I wouldn't be surprised if Brad Underwood targeted a mid-year transfer (of which there were more tha 100 this past season and some decently big names to boot).

Let's just say Illinois eventually signs Bernard Kouma. That would leave two open scholarships heading into the 2019-20 season and four total at the end of the year when Andres Feliz and Kipper Nichols come off the books. Of course, the real number will be higher when you consider Ayo Dosunmu likely turning pro and maybe Kofi Cockburn opting to do the same. So six? That would be a lot. Having one (or two) of those filled with a mid-year transfer come this December wouldn't be a terrible thing. But yeah, Illinois could have a bunch of newcomers -- again -- for 2020-21. 

daytripper wrote on May 15, 2019 at 12:05 pm

Is Bernard Kouma going to sign by the NLI tender deadline (which I believe is today)?  If not, what is the problem?  Any other 2019 recruits still on the radar, either out of high school or transfers?

Thanks for the chats.

 

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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daytripper,

Bernard Kouma signing today appears unlikely, but that doesn't mean there's some insurmountable problem and the expectation is he still joins the Illini.

I've mentioned it at various points on several different mediums (radio, podcast, etc.), but players don't actually have to sign an NLI. All that's really necessary is they get their grant-in-aid scholarship paperwork in order. The only thing about a signed NLI is it's a binding contract for said scholarship. 

The high school senior side of 2019 recruiting is basically tapped out. Based on my accounting of the open Illinois offers, the only players that have yet to commit or sign are Precious Achiuwa, Josaphat Bilau, Niven Glover, Antwan January and Trendon Watford.

January, of course, isn't coming to Illinois. Achiuwa is likely headed to Kansas, and Watford seems to be bound for LSU. That leaves Bilau (6-10, 235) and Glover (6-5, 180). Consider both of them as unlikely as there's been nothing tying them to the Illini lately (or maybe, if we're going to be honest, ever). The transfer market is pretty thin on impact guys, too. 

The Brad Underwood era has been loaded with surprising or seemingly out of nowhere additions (Kouma belonging to that group), so maybe we're all in for another June surprise like Matic Vesel.

efrem winters wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Hey Scott,

what is the deal with Bernard Kouma?

Is he still coming?  If not is Underwood okay with only filling one scholarship?

Even mediocre programs eventually find players to fill their rosters.  In my 30 years of following Illini basketball, I don’t think I have seen a Coach who takes so long to sign players?

 Thank you!

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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efrem,

Just mentioned this, but, yes, the expectation is Bernard Kouma will join Illinois for the 2019-20 season. Since he committed without visiting, the idea was to get him on campus before he signed. To take an official visit, here's what the NCAA says a school must have: High school or college transcript, prospective student-athlete registered with NCAA Eligibility Center and prospective student-athlete placed on institutional request list with NCAA Eligiblity Center. Maybe that's still in the works because Kouma hasn't visited yet.

If Kouma doesn't wind up at Illinois for some reason, that would leave the Illini with 10 scholarship players and three walk-ons. That's enough to play, of course, but depth would be an issue. Taking three open scholarships into a season isn't great (although I'm not opposed to one or two if the players on the team form a rotation that can win games).

The nature of filling out college basketball rosters has changed with so many transfers. The number has topped 700 for like the third or fourth straight year. Brad Underwood just has the fortune (misfortune?) of being the Illinois coach in this changing era. Still, he's been much more of a spring sign than fall sign guy.

IllinoisFanSinceTheSpoon wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Hey Scott,

Seems like all recruiting focus on 2020 and beyond...In the Year 2525 if Man is Still Alive, the Illini sign a top recruit. Sorry, a ref back to my psychedelic days, before your time. Back to reality, no surprise the top grad transfers pick T Tech or Virginia, most have one yr shot at success. It's simple BU has to win to make these commitment choices more attractive. Transfers or recruits. Are all the top transfers off the board? Maybe BU holds his 2 spots (if Kouma signs) and rolls the dice with the roster now. Kip, Griff, TJones, D Will hit the gym, shoot and rebound, shoot and rebound.

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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IllinoisFanSinceTheSpoon,

I've checked out the transfer list multiple times throughout the offseason (and did so again this week). I'm not overly impressed by what's available. Maybe I'm missing something, but there doesn't seem to be an impact transfer to get. 

I mentioned on my podcast earlier this week that I'm not opposed to a couple of open scholarships in that it might shrink the Illinois rotation by necessity. Playing the best players more isn't a terrible idea in my opinion. That would require more production from some combination of the guys you mentioned, though.

Reed from Rockford wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Why would ESPN's Jonathan Givony, in his NBA mock draft now that the order has been determined, have Ayo Dosunmu going 44th to Atlanta? 

Obviously, a mistake. But it does give some idea where he might have gone. So is there any doubt he made the right choice to return?

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Reed,

Yeah, that does seem like a mistake. There was always the chance Ayo Dosunmu might have received an NBA Draft combine invite for this week in Chicago and shown scouts more of his game and increased his draft stock, but that projection does indicate he made the right choice. Why role the dice as a second rounder when an extra year in college could make you a top 10 pick?

Elmer B Fudd wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Scott,  thanks for the chats.    You are insightful and full of information.  Now that we hear Kouma is going to sign,  where does Underwood and his staff look to fill the remaining 2 scholarships?  

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Elmer,

The needs haven't changed for the Illini. It's still a power forward (preferably one with athleticism to defend guys like Lamar Stevens and also spread the floor offensively) and another shooter on the wing. Who might fill those roles is the question. I honestly don't see an available player right now that fits.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Scott, what kind of impact do you feel a big like Kofi Cockburn could have on this team next year?   Defensively, do you see Underwood playing man or more zone as Cockburn could be quite a presence in the middle. 

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Elmer,

From a production standpoint, I think if Kofi Cockburn provides what Giorgi Bezhanishvili did last season that would be solid. More rebounding, though. From both of them. 

Brad Underwood has played occasional zone defense in his first two seasons as Illinois coach, but he prefers man. I'd imagine he'll weave in a little zone with Cockburn playing, but it's not going to be a full move in that direction. Illinois is a man defense team, and Cockburn will be counted on to fit into that scheme.

Elmer B Fudd wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

I look for Samba Kane to have more of an impact next year as the backup to Cockburn.  Do you think Kane can make that leap and be part of the rotation?

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Elmer,

When I spoke with Illinois assistant coach Orlando Antigua last week about Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili we also discussed Samba Kane. The Illini coaches remain high on his potential in the frontcourt as a counterpoint to Cockburn (powerhouse) and Bezhanishvili (kind of an old school post game with untapped ability on the perimeter).

Kane's athleticism and abilities are different than his post teammates, and unless the roster situation changes he's going to have to play a role off the bench. That's doubly true if Illinois plays Cockburn and Bezhanishvili together a lot. If the Illini want to keep size on the court, that means Kane would spell one of those guys. 

The main issue with Kane last season (a year in which a redshirt wouldn't have been a bad idea in my opinion) was he looked lost on the court. He showed flashes of his athleticism and potential, but those moments were few and far between. He's still learning the game, so I would caution patience in him making a leap in 2019-20. Think steady progress instead.

 

Illini Basketball Fan wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Scott -

How does Underwood compare to other P5 coaches/schools with the timing of filling up their basketball rosters? It appears that Underwood seems to have trouble filling up his rosters. If he is unable to fill most of the remaining slots, will this tempt his assistant coaches to look elswhere for opportunities due to his inability to close out desired players?

Thanks

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm
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Illini Basketball Fan,

College basketball has changed enough now in the transfer era, where rosters will be in flux in the spring pretty much all the time now. Saving a scholarship for that eventuality isn't a terrible idea since that's become part of roster building. That said, Brad Underwood has signed exactly one player in the early signing period (Ayo Dosunmu). One.

That's not sustainable in my opinion (and is shared by some recruiting experts I've spoken with). I also think it has a trickle down effect. The Illini spent so much time adding to its roster last spring that I would say it impacted how they could go about their 2019 class. If you'll recall from last November, nobody signed. The same is happening this spring (to a smaller degree in terms of roster spots to fill), so I wonder what effect that will have on 2020 recruiting.

As far as your question about the assitant coaches, I don't have an answer for that. The Illinois coaching staff strikes me as a pretty tight group, but multiple factors would be in play should an assistant move on to a different job. That's part of the way things work anyway.

Long Time Fan wrote on May 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Given the success that Feliz had last year, are there any JUCO prospects we should be considering?

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 2:05 pm
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Long Time Fan,

Illinois did go the junior college route in purusing Tomas Woldetensae before he ultimately committed to Virginia. Looking at the top 30 JUCO recruits nationally, few are still available and based on commitments by players ranked beyond that few are high major bound. A look at the three still on the market:

No. 5 James Rojas, 6-7, PF, Hutchinson (Kan.) -- Seen as an Alabama lean

No. 22 Javon Frankin, 6-7, PF, Holmes CC (Miss.) -- Injured all of last season; recent visit to West Virginia; averaged 10.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 2017-18; not a three-point shooter

No. 24 Marvin Johnson, 6-6, SF, Coffeyville (Kan.) -- All mid-major offers

 

 

Scott Richey wrote on May 15, 2019 at 2:05 pm
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That's it for today's chat. Apologies for the occasional delay once we got underway. Had to get Mike Small and Michael Feagles on the phone before they flew back to Champaign from South Carolina. More on a dominant final round in NCAA regional play by the Illini in Thursday's N-G. Also had to briefly discuss today's SportsTalk with Evan Conn. Tune in starting at 5:10 p.m. on WDWS 1400-AM or stream us online.

Appreciate, as always, your questions. Thanks for continuing to participate (especially you weekly regulars). The chat is back next week. Same time, same place. Maybe Illinois basketball will have filled another scholarship.

Until then, enjoy the week!

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