Underwood 'on the mend' after knee replacement

Underwood 'on the mend' after knee replacement

CHAMPAIGN — The 2018-19 men's basketball season starts in roughly 2 1 / 2 weeks, and it's Illinois coach Brad Underwood that's coming off the disabled list to get back on the court.

Underwood underwent knee replacement surgery the last week of August — approximately one month before the Illini's first official practice. The timing was such to make sure he'd have some time to recover and start rehab before the grind of the season began in earnest.

"It's on the mend," Underwood told The News-Gazette on Monday afternoon. "Physical therapy is working it's magic, and it gets better every day."

Underwood had an arthroscopic procedure this summer on the same knee. A scope and a scrape is how he described it at the time. Turns out it wasn't enough to forestall replacement surgery.

"It was the right solution," Underwood said. "I had been doctoring this thing. We tried every conservative approach since April just to try to prolong (replacement) really. Then it just got to the point where the severity of it and the pain and the limp wasn't going to get any better. It was going to continually get worse.

"It forced our hand a little bit, but I sit here today saying I'm really glad I got it done. No pun intended, it put a little giddyup in my step. We're getting it back to normal. I'm pain free, and that's a good thing."

Underwood doesn't foresee his recovery affecting how he and his coaching staff work with the team once they start getting 20 hours per week for practice. Underwood's practices move at a fairly brisk pace from one drill to the next. Keeping up with that pace is something he said would probably be his biggest challenge.

The early answer might be Underwood taking a seat at halfcourt during practice and delegating more to his assistants.

"I don't anticipate it in any way changing our approach to practice or what we're trying to accomplish," Underwood said. "It will all be personal in terms of me having to sit a little bit or delegate a drill or an explanation instead of physically getting out and showing them."

That the Illinois coaching staff is in its seconds season together makes that easier. Underwood might not want to delegate as much as he might have to, but he trusts what assistants Jamall Walker, Chin Coleman and Orlando Antigua can do.

"I think the one thing I feel really comfortable with is I've always been a guy that's let my coaches coach," Underwood said. "I let them get very involved in practice. We talk about what we're going to do going in, so there's very little slippage by the time we go on the floor to practice. ... They're much more open to offering up opinions and advice than maybe they were a year ago. It's a two-way street that allows for minimal slippage."

Illinois will have put in about six weeks of offseason workouts with its full team on campus before preseason practices start. That's allowed the Illini to work in true freshmen post players Anthony Higgs and Samba Kane, who were both not on campus this summer, but are now.

"Obviously, they're behind," Underwood said. "There's no doubt about that. We worked on a lot of fundamental things this summer they were not here for, but them being able to get caught up and up to speed has been a refresher course for the other new guys.

"We've moved quicker this fall than we did this summer, and we've spent more time on the defensive side of things than we have in the past. They're all gaining knowledge and understanding, and that's what it's for."

The official start of practice is something Underwood looks forward to annually. This year's is coming quicker than ever with the late September start to practice necessary with an even earlier start to games in November. The Illini open the season at 7 p.m. on Nov. 8 against Evansville,

"It's exciting to start putting the pieces together," Underwood said. "It's exciting to start continuing to mold these guys — the veterans with the new guys and the new guys learning so much. It's one of the most exciting times of the year for me. I love practice and I love teaching. So far these guys have been great, and I expect that to continue."