Underwood's rapid-fire recruiting a must for 2019 class

Underwood's rapid-fire recruiting a must for 2019 class

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood cast a rather wide recruiting net in the 2019 recruiting class. More than 50 prospects in the class received an Illinois offer. Some have already chosen their college path — from elite wing Kahlil Whitney (Kentucky) to breakout point guard D.J. Carton (Ohio State) to defensive stopper Romeo Weems (DePaul).

None of them have picked the Illini. Not yet at least, but the multitude of offers has Illinois in the mix for multiple 2019 recruits.

Casting a wide net seems to be Underwood's preferred method and is a departure from former Illinois coach John Groce's approach. Doing so with the 2019 class, though, might have been a necessity regardless of preference.

"It's not a great class top to bottom," Rivals national recruiting analyst Corey Evans said. "Illinois is not alone casting a wide net because everyone's gunning for everyone. I've never seen certain programs going head to toe with other ones. Brad's being proactive to a degree to where if they do miss on a couple of their guys — which they will, which everyone will — they want to make sure they can get someone else."

Illinois' recruiting in the 2019 class isn't without focus, though. The seven-player (not including graduate transfer Adonis De La Rosa) 2018 class Underwood signed highlighted the type of player he wants to facilitate the Illini rebuild. Athletes first and foremost. Long athletes in particular and at every position from Ayo Dosunmu in the backcourt to Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin on the wing and Samba Kane at center.

Underwood and Co. have targeted similar players in the 2019 class, with big men a clear priority after adding more guards in 2018. The Illini are after some post players that offer sheer size — Kofi Cockburn and Jason Jitoboh — but plenty of versatile bigs are on their board, too. More length in the backcourt and on the wing is a want, too, with offers out to guys like Terrence Shannon Jr. and Quincy Guerrier.

Mostly, Illinois has options. Having options ultimately allowed Illinois to sign that seven-player 2018 class.

"It kind of makes sense to always have guys — especially last year when they had so many scholarships to give," said Brian Snow, a 247Sports recruiting analyst. "To me, it's just the way you have to do it if you're not at Kentucky or Duke."

The early signing period for 2019 prospects starts Nov. 14 and runs for a week. That gives the Illinois coaches 81 days to make sufficient inroads in 2019 recruiting to have a prospect or two ready to sign on the dotted line.

The Illini signed just one player last November. It was a significant addition in Dosunmu, one of the highest-rated prospects to sign with Illinois in program history. But with multiple scholarships to fill, the Illinois coaches had to put in significant work in the spring and summer to fill the class.

This fall could be critical for Underwood after having to rebuild the 2017 class after he was hired that March and signing the overwhelming majority of the 2018 class between April and June.

"I don't think signing six kids in the spring is sustainable if you want to build a winning program," Snow said. "That's really difficult to do unless you're going to do it with JUCOs and transfers. If you're looking at bringing in high school players during the spring consistently, I don't see that being a really sustainable model. I don't know that there's any other school in the country that's been able to pull that off."

Illinois currently projects to have three open scholarships for the 2019 class. One remains open now — creating the potential to sign a guy like Guerrier, who intends to enroll at mid-year — while De La Rosa's and Aaron Jordan's will come off the books. Signing multiple recruits in November allows for more future recruiting next spring and summer.

"All the work they did this past spring and summer in finalizing their 2018-19 roster, it would just be nice for sanity's sake to know you've got a couple guys in the hopper," Evans said. "The one thing the Big Ten does and better programs do is they get ahead. They all get ahead, and that allows them to invest more time in the future classes so you're not doing what (Illinois) did last year and sweating it out and trying to get all these late guys. I think it's crucial to get one or two guys who are your priorities in the fall before the college season begins."

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-351-5605, by email at srichey@news-gazette.com and on Twitter@srrichey.