Grad transfer De La Rosa brings much-needed veteran presence to Illini

Grad transfer De La Rosa brings much-needed veteran presence to Illini

CHAMPAIGN — Adonis De La Rosa carries his iPad with him everywhere.

Any free moment is an opportunity to watch film from one of Illinois' games from last season. Or a chance to break down a recent Illini practice — even if he wasn't participating. Or even, despite all the work he's put in off the court, learn something new about Illinois coach Brad Underwood's system.

"I watch a lot of film," De La Rosa said. "Hours."

It's part of the reason Underwood has regularly referred to De La Rosa as a "basketball savant." The Kent State graduate transfer might still be working his way back to full health from offseason knee surgery, but there won't be any catching up to do once he's back on the court.

"That's the maturity that you see in a grown man who's been through it," Underwood said. "He understands it. Young guys don't quite understand the importance of that yet. They actually have to live it.

"Adonis gets that. He understands the value of information, of scouting, of knowing — not just what he's supposed to do but everybody else is supposed to do. He's vocal. He's a coach on the sideline."

That De La Rosa is even on the Illinois roster required some careful consideration from Underwood. The second-year Illini coach wasn't exactly interested in pursuing a graduate transfer and prefers to build his program from the ground up with high school recruits.

"I had no intention of what I call a rent-a-player, yet I'm really glad we did this one," Underwood said.

Credit Orlando Antigua for getting De La Rosa on Underwood's radar. The Illinois assistant coach is a Bronx, N.Y., native — just like De La Rosa — and worked with him when he was coaching the Dominican Republic national team.

"He knew his character," Underwood said. "He knew what he was about. He knew he was a perfect fit. Orlando just kept beating me over the head saying, 'This is a guy we need. This is a guy we need.' "

De La Rosa was doing his own homework after deciding he would use his final year of eligibility as a graduate transfer following two seasons at Kent State. He kept tabs on which teams were losing frontcourt players and which were adding to their roster. His previous relationship with Antigua added a certain level of comfort, but De La Rosa was swayed more by what he read when he was researching the Illini.

The articles De La Rosa read cued him into the fact Underwood was looking for skilled bigs.

"That spoke volumes to me," De La Rosa said. "I just felt like this was the best move after all those guys transferred. It was a no brainer."

De La Rosa, when healthy, will provide some needed depth to an Illinois frontcourt that lost Leron Black, Michael Finke, Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel. The Illini's need was apparent to De La Rosa.

"I just felt like the love was there," he said. "Nothing was promised — nothing was guaranteed — but the actual love was there. I knew that coming from a mid-major a lot of schools would be intrigued, but I also wanted to be somewhere that wanted me and also needed me.

"Some of the schools that were recruiting me like Arizona, Wake Forest, Washington and Washington State, all those dudes wanted me, but they didn't need me. I felt like Illinois had a necessity for bigs."

De La Rosa has mostly been a spectator since Illinois officially started practice in late September.

"I'm ready to be back now — just anxious," he said. "I still have to follow protocol and still have to stick to the script. I can't leak any dates or anything like that, but I'm sure I should be getting into the action pretty soon."

Adding De La Rosa on the court opens up several new possibilities for the Illini. They can't go big with their current roster given freshmen Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Samba Kane are the only healthy big men. De La Rosa could change that dynamic.

"I think there's a lot to be determined yet in our stuff until we actually get him out there," Underwood said. "I know we can run offense through him. I know he's a proven rebounder. His intelligence will help us. He's a great communicator. I think we'll continue to get better defensively through his talk and communication. The importance of that will be evident."

The "when healthy" caveat that comes when discussing De La Rosa's potential impact at Illinois did give Underwood pause this spring. De La Rosa's ACL injury in March created a question on when he might be back on the court. That became less of a concern, however, as Underwood got to know De La Rosa.

"You hear how hard he works and see how good a student he was and find the character piece, and there's a guy that's going to work really hard to get back," Underwood said. "He'd be great to have whether he plays a game — and he will play, obviously — (but) his presence has been invaluable. I'm excited to get him out there."

Moving parts

Nearly 900 players transferred this offseason, but only six graduate transfers moved into the Big Ten — one of them Illinois' Adonis De La Rosa. College basketball writer SCOTT RICHEY breaks down the other five:

Evan Boudreaux | 6-8, forward, Purdue

The former Lake Forest standout and N-G All-State selection is the unicorn of grad transfers given he's joined the Boilers with two seasons of eligibility after his graduation from Dartmouth. Boudreaux put up steady production for the Big Green, averaging 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds in his two seasons in the Ivy League. His ability to stretch the floor as a career 37 percent three-point shooter gives Purdue a different look in its frontcourt.

Evan Fitzner | 6-10, forward, Indiana

Fitzner started his career at Saint Mary's in the Gaels' starting lineup for all 35 games as a true freshman in the 2015-16 season and all 34 the next year before becoming more of a complementary rotation piece a year ago. That he shot better than 40 percent from three-point range in all three of his seasons in California makes him a unique weapon in the Hoosiers' frontcourt alongside or in place of more traditional bigs.

Brock Stull | 6-4, guard, Minnesota

The Gophers hit on their last transfer from Milwaukee, Akeem Springs turning into a key contributor during their NCAA tournament run in the 2016-17 season. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino went to that well twice in the offseason, not only adding Stull to his backcourt but also former Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter as an assistant. Stull could provide a steady, veteran presence alongside younger guards like Isaiah Washington.

Ryan Taylor | 6-6, guard, Northwestern

Losing both Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey opened a glaring hole in the Wildcats' lineup from a shooting and scoring standpoint. Enter Taylor, who was the leading scorer in the MVC last season (21.3 ppg) playing for Evansville. Taylor, who started his career at Ohio, should help fill the void in the Northwestern backcourt as Lindsey's replacement. Taylor's a threat from deep, having shot a career-best 42 percent from three in 2017-18.

Keyshawn Woods | 6-3, guard, Ohio State

The Buckeyes have some intriguing young guards on their roster in freshman Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington. While Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann is waiting on their development — and for Florida State transfer CJ Walker to become eligible in a year — he'll turn to Woods. The combo guard's best season was two years ago at Wake Forest, where he averaged 12.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists.