Get to know the 2018-19 Illinois men's basketball team

Get to know the 2018-19 Illinois men's basketball team

The newcomers outnumber the returning players 9-7, unless the latter want to claim former manager turned walk-on Zach Griffith. Either way, there's plenty to get to know about who's on this year's Illinois basketball roster:

Alan Griffin

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 180 pounds

Year: Freshman

Position: Guard

Hometown: Ossining, N.Y.

High school: Archbishop Stepinac

2017-18 recap

Griffin won every title imaginable during his senior season at Archbishop Stepinac, with the Crusaders claiming the Archdiocesan title, CHSAA NYC Class AA championship and a New York State AA Federation Tournament of Champions victory to boot. He did so putting up 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game.

2018-19 projection

There's value in being a shooter on this particular Illinois team given the guards Griffin will share the backcourt with this season. His teammates' ability to get to the rim should collapse defenses and allow him to flex the shooting stroke that saw him shoot 48 percent from three-point range as a senior in high school.

Trent Frazier

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 170 pounds

Year: Sophomore

Position: Guard

Hometown: Wellington, Fla.

High school: Wellington

2017-18 recap

Frazier had a breakout freshman season ... eventually. The lefty point guard struggled early in the season — enough that he questioned if he could compete at the Big Ten level — but ultimately turned in one of the best seasons by a freshman in the conference as the leader in scoring, assists, steals and three-pointers per game.

2018-19 projection

A new season and new teammates won't really change Frazier's role. Yes, he'll have help in the backcourt, but the now-sophomore is still a centerpiece of this team. His work in the offseason has added both strength and athleticism to his game (look out for breakaway dunks), and he'll frequently have the ball in his hands.

Kipper Nichols

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 220 pounds

Year: Redshirt junior

Position: Forward

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

High school: St. Edward

2017-18 recap

When Nichols was on, he was borderline unstoppable at the offensive end last season. His 31-point performance at Madison Square Garden in the Big Ten tournament was the perfect example. So was the 27 points he put up on Michigan State. When he wasn't, though? Nichols didn't contribute much offensively or on the boards.

2018-19 projection

The Illinois coaching staff — particularly head coach Brad Underwood — is pushing Nichols to play like he did in last year's Big Ten tournament all the time. This young Illini team will need a locked-in Nichols considering the responsibilities he'll shoulder (playing multiple positions) as one of the few veterans on the team.

Drew Cayce

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 175 pounds

Year: Redshirt junior

Position: Guard

Hometown: Libertyville

High school: La Lumiere School (Ind.)

2017-18 recap

Eligible after sitting out the previous season following his transfer from Creighton, the walk-on guard appeared in nine games for the Illini and made two free throws in the opener. He played a career-high nine minutes at Wisconsin — a move Brad Underwood made to get some effort on the court — and had two steals and a rebound.

2018-19 projection

Cayce's playing time last year at Wisconsin is telling. Illinois was struggling in what turned out to be a 25-point loss, and Underwood was simply looking for someone to play hard. That's Cayce, who made the most of his opportunity. His knowledge of the system has been and will continue to be important in helping a young team.

Zach Griffith

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 210 pounds

Year: Sophomore

Position: Forward

Hometown: Fisher

High school: Fisher

2017-18 recap

The former News-Gazette All-Area first-team selection spent last season with Illinois as a manager. That followed his standout high school career with the Bunnies. Griffith is Fisher's all-time leading scorer with 1,308 points, and he averaged 17.3 points, 10 rebounds and 2.2 assists as a senior.

2018-19 projection

Illinois had a need for a little more size on its roster. That was Griffith's in when he was added as a walk-on before the school year started. His time as a manager didn't hurt, either, considering it gave him a leg up in already knowing the system. Griffith's priority this year, though, remains pushing his teammates in practice.

Tevian Jones

Height: 6-foot-7

Weight: 205 pounds

Year: Freshman

Position: Guard

Hometown: Chandler, Ariz.

High school: Culver City (Calif.)

2017-18 recap

Jones' move to California for his senior season definitely panned out. The top-100 recruit helped Culver City win its first Ocean League championship in 32 years while averaging 20.5 points on 54 percent shooting as the Centaurs' de facto point guard. Jones scored in bunches with a 48-point game and two 30-point performances.

2018-19 projection

Jones lists Tracy McGrady as his favorite player. It's fitting. The Illini freshman has the same long, lanky build and plays above the rim — like way above. Jones will play off the ball more than he did in high school, but his willingness to run the floor in transition and a developing shot make him an option on the wing.

Andres Feliz

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 185 pounds

Year: Junior

Position: Guard

Hometown: Guachupita, Dominican Republic

High school: West Oaks Academy (Fla.)

2017-18 recap

Feliz earned NJCAA Division I All-America honors as a sophomore at Northwest Florida State and was the top-ranked junior college point guard in the country after putting up 20 points, 6.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals. His efficiency — 61 percent overall shooting and 42 percent from deep — certainly stands out.

2018-19 projection

With six freshmen on the Illinois roster and a backcourt filled almost entirely with underclassmen, the Illini needed some type of veteran presence. Feliz is it. Not only does he have two years of college basketball experience, but he was the Dominican Republic's best player by far in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships.

Ayo Dosunmu

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 185 pounds

Year: Freshman

Position: Guard

Hometown: Chicago

High school: Morgan Park

2017-18 recap

The five-star recruit earned every possible all-state honor after averaging 25.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists last year at Morgan Park. He won a second state title. Then he helped Team USA win gold at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. If Illinois' goal was to add "winners" to the roster, the Illini hit big on Dosunmu.

2018-19 projection

Expectations on top of expectations — at least from the Illinois fan base — have been heaped on Dosunmu's shoulders as a five-star recruit from Chicago. That's all the Illini fans have wanted. Dosunmu will factor in immediately to Illinois' plans, and his competitive streak and skill set should help him succeed.

Adonis De La Rosa

Height: 7-foot

Weight: 260 pounds

Year: Graduate

Position: Center

Hometown: The Bronx, N.Y.

High school: Christ the King

2017-18 recap

De La Rosa started 32 of 34 games and averaged 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in what turned out to be his final season at Kent State. What stands out more about his stats is his offensive rebounding percentage (top 70 in the nation) and his ability to both get to the free-throw line and then make them as a 79 percent shooter.

2018-19 projection

How quickly the 7-footer gets back to full health will determine his overall impact this season at Illinois. He tore his ACL in his final game at Kent State in early March and had offseason surgery. De La Rosa heads into the start of the season seemingly ahead of schedule on his recovery, which could be huge for the Illini.

Giorgi Bezhanishvili

Height: 6-foot-9

Weight: 235 pounds

Year: Freshman

Position: Forward

Hometown: Rustavi, Georgia

High school: The Patrick School (N.J.)

2017-18 recap

Bezhanishvili played on a talented team at The Patrick School and was just the fourth-leading scorer for the Celtics behind guys like 2019 four-star guard Al-Amir Dawes and fellow 2018 big man Valdir Manuel. He flashed potential for more, though, with 16 points in the Union County Tournament title game against powerhouse Roselle Catholic.

2018-19 projection

Illinois' thin frontcourt means Bezhanishvili will play early — and often. He's basically the lone option, as Adonis De La Rosa and Anthony Higgs continue to return from injury and Samba Kane continues to work to get up to speed after missing the summer. Regardless of his playing time, though, he'll bring plenty of energy to the Illini.

Da'Monte Williams

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 200 pounds

Year: Sophomore

Position: Guard

Hometown: Peoria

High school: Manual

2017-18 recap

Illinois considered redshirting Williams right up until the start of practice last season as he worked to return from ACL surgery. Never fully 100 percent and at his peak performance, the Illini legacy still played in 31 games, made three starts and averaged 3.5 points and 2.9 rebounds while also struggling with his shot.

2018-19 projection

Williams showed flashes of his athletic potential last season on flying offensive rebound tip-ins. Expect more of that this year — except the tip-ins are more likely to be putback dunks. The key for Williams, though, will be his shooting. Improving on his 34 percent overall shooting and 23 percent mark from deep is vital.

Anthony Higgs

Height: 6-foot-8

Weight: 235 pounds

Year: Freshman

Position: Forward

Hometown: Baltimore

High school: Perry Hall

2017-18 recap

A second straight Maryland Class 4A state title at Perry Hall capped Higgs' high school career. He was overall more productive his junior year, but he was at his best last season in the Gators' championship run, averaging 10.5 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in the state semifinal and title game.

2018-19 projection

Higgs is a serious question mark for Illinois this season. The potential when he's at his peak is what the Illini covet with real athleticism mixed with some needed size, but he's not at his peak in any estimation. Higgs didn't enroll until August, therefore missing eight critical weeks of summer workouts, and is currently battling a foot injury.

Aaron Jordan

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 210 pounds

Year: Senior

Position: Guard

Hometown: Plainfield

High School: Plainfield East

2017-18 recap

The idea that Jordan's junior season was going to be different than his first two with the Illini happened early. That he scored more in his first two games last season than he did in all of the 2016-17 season was a pretty good sign. Jordan's production dipped during the Big Ten, but he did set a career high with 46 percent three-point shooting.

2018-19 projection

A season like last year's by Jordan could be key for the Illini. Three-point shooting wasn't his only career high he last season, and a little more start-to-finish consistency throughout the season could help him top those numbers again. Steady production on the wing will make a difference for a young Illinois team.

Tyler Underwood

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 180 pounds

Year: Redshirt junior

Position: Guard

Hometown: Champaign

High School: Nacogdoches (Texas)

2017-18 recap

The NCAA denied Illinois' waiver claim for Underwood's immediate eligibility last season following his transfer from Oklahoma State to follow his dad to Champaign. That limited Underwood's impact to practice, where he went after his teammates each day, testing them and challenging them with fearless abandon most days.

2018-19 projection

Underwood played in 11 games as a walk-on at Oklahoma State in 2016-17. That's probably the litmus test for how often he'll play at Illinois now that he's eligibile. What gives him an advantage is he knows the offensive and defensive schemes better than any other player on the team given he, well, grew up in it.

Samba Kane

Height: 7-foot

Weight: 220 pounds

Year: Freshman

Position: Center

Hometown: Dakar, Senegal

High School: Florida Prep Academy

2017-18 recap

Kane reclassified from the 2019 class to 2018 when he transferred from Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo., to Florida Prep Academy for what turned into his senior season. He helped lead the Falcons to a 25-6 record last season while putting up 9.1 points on 68 percent shooting to go with 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.

2018-19 projection

How soon Kane plays meaningful minutes this season for Illinois is dependent on how quickly he continues to learn Brad Underwood's system. The 7-footer has only played basketball for four years, and he missed all of the summer workouts while getting his academics in order to enroll in August. Kane adds plenty of length and athleticism, but he's still a project.

Samson Oladimeji

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 200 pounds

Year: Junior

Position: Guard

Hometown: Rolling Meadows

High School: Fremd

2017-18 recap

Oladimeji appeared in eight games last season, and he set career highs in minutes played (five) and rebounds (four) in Illinois' 47-point blowout victory against Longwood. The walk-on guard didn't add to his career scoring total, however, missing the only shot he took with a three-point attempt in the Longwood game.

2018-19 projection

Illinois rounded out its wing depth by adding guards Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones, but Oladimeji's full season in Brad Underwood's system gives him the knowledge base to help bring those freshmen along. Oladimeji also has the distinction of being one of the more powerful dunkers on the team.

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