The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, May 28, 2017

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, May 28, 2017

He shares an alma mater with Lon Kruger, coached at the school that Bill Self attended, and began his playing career where Lou Henson got his start as a college head coach. Now, for the stuff you won't find in the media guide about Illinois' new basketball coach: We asked some of those who know Brad Underwood best to tell us their single favorite story about the 53-year-old father of three. Here's chapter one of our two-part series.

Kansas rancher and longtime friend

"Although a very poor golfer myself, I always enjoy playing a round with Brad because I love how angry he gets when he hits an awful shot. Always the fierce competitor, he doesn't like to lose a ball or hit one out of bounds.

"A few years ago, we were in Las Vegas for Coach Lon Kruger's Coaches vs. Cancer benefit and I just happened to be playing in the group behind Brad's foursome. We were playing Shadow Creek, the beautiful course designed by Steve Wynn, and it is full of trees and very narrow.

"I heard a commotion in the group ahead of us, followed by a scream and then some hilarious laughter. Not knowing what had happened, I just assumed someone hit an amazing shot or sank a long putt. As our group came upon the tee box for No. 10, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. In the trash can just off of the tee box was a driver. It was broken in the middle, and almost in two pieces.

"Yep, it was Brad's driver. Apparently, he went OB."

Stephen F. Austin athletic director gave Underwood his first Division I head job

"During the hiring process, we invited Brad to campus to look us over. He was in Dallas recruiting and planned to drive here to Nacogdoches after he finished.

"We had him booked at a local hotel but when he arrived at 2 a.m., they had given his room away. He first considered sleeping in his car but thought otherwise and called me.

"I was sound asleep when he called but managed to give him my address and told him I had a spare bedroom. He accepted and when I woke up my wife to tell her what was taking place, she quickly got up and made sure the sheets were clean.

"They were and Brad, as he did during his whole time here, handled it all with a charm that captivated the campus and community. I knew we had our man and the next day he agreed to come. As my wife later exclaimed, 'I'm so glad those sheets were clean.'"

Senior Editor, 'Go Pokes' Magazine

"There was a practice toward the end of finals week of the fall semester last season at Oklahoma State, just before the Tulsa game. I'm there watching.

"First, guard Phil Forte went down hard on his tailbone and was out of practice. Then, a few minutes later, All-American point guard Jawun Evans went out with a shoulder injury.

"At this point, I'm thinking a lot of coaches would call 'em in and end practice before somebody else went down.

"Underwood kept putting time on the clock. I told the other media members there that it reminded me of the movie 'Miracle,' when Kurt Russell playing Herb Brooks kept having Team USA skate the lines until Mike Eruzione yelled, 'I'm Mike Eruzione, Amherst, Mass. And I play for the United States of America.'

"The next week, I said something to Underwood about that and he admitted that is one of his favorite scenes in one of his favorite movies."

Austin Peay head coach was on Frank Martin's Kansas State staff with Underwood

"There are facts which are 100 percent accurate and then there are what we deemed 'Brad Facts,' which are truthful but exaggerated.

"One of the best stories was when we were playing Kansas in the Big 12 title game. We were down two and our starting small forward was getting tired. Brad was all over Frank about getting him subbed out. The kid he wanted to be put in the game was a freshman named Rodney McGruder, who now plays for the Miami Heat.

"To make a long story short, we went from being down two to being down 10. Frank looked at Brad and said 'Do you have any more bright ideas, Brad?'"

Starred at Western Illinois when Underwood was an assistant coach

"In 1998, we were in Tulsa for a game against Oral Roberts. The night before the game, we were in the gym going over the scouting report. As Coach was talking, (Oklahoma Sooners legend) Wayman Tisdale walked in at the other end of the gym. The entire team saw Tisdale come in and we were all in awe watching him walk across the gym.

"Coach Underwood hadn't seen him and was still talking. Not one of us was listening. I remember Coach saying something like 'They enter the ball to the wing ...' — and then he saw Tisdale — '... and I'll shut up now because none of you are listening.' He was right.

"Wayman Tisdale walked over, shook Coach Underwood's hand and said 'Didn't I dunk on you?'

"I don't know if this is true or not, but if it is, someone please get me the film."

Covered Underwood's Oklahoma State Cowboys for the Oklahoman

"So, I'd seen Brad Underwood coach while at Stephen F. Austin. Gruff. Scowling. Screaming — just what you'd imagine from a disciple of Bob Huggins and Frank Martin.

"And then I got a glimpse of him in practices, where it's even more intense. There's only one way in a Brad Underwood practice: hard and tough, all the time.

"Well, apparently it made a mark on me. One night, I had a dream that I was playing for Brad, and he was killing me — for good reason — during a practice. 'Quit being so soft! You've got to be tougher, Helsley! You're terrible!' I woke up feeling totally inept.

"There is that side to Brad. But there's a soft side, too. Heck, in many ways, he's a big softie. Start talking about McPherson, Kansas, or Thomas Walkup or any number of former players or places he's been and he's likely to need a tissue, if not a towel.

"My time working with Brad was brief, but I enjoyed getting to know him. He was always open and fair with us in the media. And that's all we can ask, especially these days."

President, Stephen F. Austin

"When we interviewed Brad for the head coaching position, I asked him if his wife had ever been to Nacogdoches. His response: She hadn't.

"I then asked whether his wife would move to Nacogdoches sight unseen. He assured me she would.

"I told him I was amazed at that because my wife certainly would never move to a location unseen by her. He said his wife would because she was a coach's wife. At that time, I made up my mind he was the man to hire if he had that type of relationship with his wife."

Oklahoma columnist

"Every year, there's a guy in Oklahoma who puts together a reunion of Oklahoma basketball coaches. It's heavily-centered on small-college and high school coaches, most of them retired. You get a few current coaches and a few retired major-college coaches. It's well-attended and is getting bigger. Probably 100 or so coaches show up. I go and hang out and see a lot of people I know.

"Last year, Brad's only year in Oklahoma, he stopped by. I didn't think too much of it. Good PR move. Lon Kruger did the same thing, then had to scoot on to another event. The reunion runs two or three hours. Near the end, as the crowd starts thinning, I look over, and Brad's still there, talking with coaches. When I leave, after it's over, Brad's in the parking lot, still chatting with coaches.

"That was in August. Seven months later, he took off for Illinois. He didn't leave under good circumstances. But while he was here, Underwood made a heck of an impression."

2014 Southland Conference Player of the Year at SFA

"Coach Underwood hates to lose. He has a tremendous fire and determination in everything he does.

"That being said, I remember our team meeting after our second loss of the 2013-14 season against East Tennessee State. We had a meeting in the hotel after the game, and unfortunately after Coach had a chance to analyze the game film. I remember walking into the room filled with disappointment and frustration. There was one particular play that really got Coach riled up. He then proceeded to bang onto what we thought was the table until we realized that the projector screen went blue. Coach had just smashed the laptop, and proceeds to say 'not the first, and probably not the last.'

"He was so disappointed in our effort, which brought us all into a realization that we needed to buy in quick, or it was going to be a very long season. Long story short: We then went on a 29-game winning streak and won SFA's first ever NCAA tournament game.

"Coach Underwood is a guy who knows when to light fires but also knows when to put them out."

Senior Pastor, First United Methodist of Nacogdoches

"On Sunday mornings, I could look about two-thirds of the way back in the sanctuary on the right side and see Brad. When there was a game late on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon practice, if Brad was in town, he was in church with Susan and the family.

"I am grateful that during worship he never felt the need to coach me like I would see him do with the team at times in the coliseum.

"Honestly, he is a classy guy. To be faithful is to be loyal and steadfast. That describes Brad — loyal to his family, his church, his team."

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Moonpie wrote on May 28, 2017 at 2:05 pm

The swell folks line up to toss the swell softballs to the swell Latest Coaching Installment, the balls handed over by Lazy Gazoo Cheerleading Inc. SEE! The Latest Coaching Installment is the greatest thing since sliced bread because we got all these outsiders to say so. That's pretty much what was said about Coach Grimace, too, and...

It's like a Trump method--do something swell to distract from an issue, the issue here being that we don't yet know if The Latest Coaching Installment can recruit or coach his short and inexperienced team anywhere near the Big Dance this coming season.

You know, the small potatoes.

Green Shirt wrote on May 28, 2017 at 6:05 pm

The Shadow Creek golf course was designed by Tom Fazio, not Steve Wynn.