Latest Illini recruiting class brings winning pedigree

Latest Illini recruiting class brings winning pedigree

CHAMPAIGN — Ayo Dosunmu won a pair of state championships at Morgan Park. After a foot injury kept him sidelined in the title game as a junior, the five-star guard put up a 28-point performance last month to lead the Mustangs past Springfield Southeast for their fourth championship in six seasons.

Alan Griffin won every title possible in New York with Archbishop Stepinac in his senior season. He put up big numbers and took down big-time opponents — most notably Archbishop Molloy and then Christ The King — to claim the Catholic High School Athletic Association city title.

Andres Feliz was part of a pair of junior college state titles in Florida. He helped Northwest Florida State to a fourth-place finish in the NJCAA Division I national tournament as a freshman and guided the Raiders back to the Elite Eight this past season while earning First Team All-American honors.

Several other common threads run through Illinois' 2018 recruiting class. Skill sets. Length. Character.

But Brad Underwood and the Illinois coaching staff were looking for something in particular as they continue to reshape the Illini roster. They wanted players with a proven track record of winning — and the competitive edge to keep doing so at Illinois.

"We evaluate that as much in the recruiting process as we do talent," Underwood told The News-Gazette on Thursday. "When those guys walk in the locker room, they're not afraid of a name or not afraid of anybody else. They expect to win because they know they've paid a price to win and worked hard to win and done nothing but win.

"I know how hard Alan Griffin has worked to become as good a player as he is. I know what Andres Feliz is about. I know what Ayo is about. That's a culture and a characteristic that goes unsaid."

That expectation to win is key.

"We wanted to win last year," Underwood said after the Illini finished the year 14-18, their second sub-.500 season in the past three years. "I don't know, truthfully, if we expected to win. I did, and yet that has to become part of our inner circle. ... We all want to win — everybody wants to win — but now we have to expect to win. There's a big difference, and there's a price to pay to win. If winning was easy, then everybody would do it. It's not. It's really hard, and there's a commitment level and it takes everybody."

That competitive edge to win is what Underwood said he hopes shines through in Illinois' 2018 class. The newest Illini were targeted and recruited for a reason and are part of the culture Underwood is trying to lay for his program.

"If it means dive on the floor for a loose ball to get a win, you do that," he said. "If it means take a charge to do that, you do that. It's not just play hard. It's play hard with a purpose. That's what winners do, and very, very evident, I hope, in our recruiting because it was a big, big piece."