Guard-heavy Illini make rebounding a point of pride

Guard-heavy Illini make rebounding a point of pride

CHAMPAIGN — Ayo Dosunmu scored 18 points in his Illinois debut last Thursday night against Evansville, slicing through the Purple Aces' defense time and again to finish at the rim. He also had four assists while limiting his turnovers to just one and was a problem for Evansville defensively in coming away with three steals.

The 6-foot-5 Dosunmu was the proverbial stat sheet stuffer. Except none of that was the first item Illinois coach Brad Underwood mentioned about his freshman guard.

"His rebounding," Underwood said stood out the most. "We've been spending a lot of time the past few days talking about rebounding the basketball. When we play those three guards together (Dosunmu with Andres Feliz and Trent Frazier), he's a guy that has to give us some rebounding.

"It's a little unusual for him. It's something new — especially on the offensive end — to go rebound the basketball. I think that shows how cerebral he is, how willing a participant he is to winning."

Dosunmu's rebounds were six of 24 from Illinois' guards against Evansville. While freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili finished with a game-high 10 rebounds — five offensive, five defensive — the Illini's thin frontcourt and regular multiple-guard lineups will necessitate that type of rebounding throughout the season.

Senior guard Aaron Jordan hauled in seven rebounds against Evansville. It was the same number he had in the Illini's exhibition win against Illinois Wesleyan and just two off the career high he set last season against DePaul.

"You have to rebound," Jordan said. "You have to in the Big Ten and even the (nonconference) opponents we're playing considering we have one of the toughest schedules in the country. I'm going to take pride in rebounding.

"That's more possessions for us. That breaks teams when you can get offensive rebounds. You have to want to do it, right? My want in that area is going to be all season."

Jordan and Dosunmu were two of five Illinois guards with multiple rebounds Thursday night at State Farm Center. Freshman guard Tevian Jones had four in his debut, while Andres Feliz and Da'Monte Williams had three rebounds each.

"We've got to keep emphasizing that in practice," Underwood said. "I know what I'm getting from Aaron. AJ is really, really consistent with what he does on the glass. Da'Monte, most nights, is very consistent.

"It's those young guys that we've got to keep them going. We're asking them to do things on the glass that maybe they haven't had to do as a top priority. We've got to keep working on that."

Underwood is asking Trent Frazier to do the same thing. The 6-1 sophomore guard averaged 1.8 rebounds last season and had one against Evansville.

"My size, I try to get the little bounce out balls — the scramble ones that bounce out," Frazier said. "There's not much I can do with my size, but I try to get out there on the glass to get a few rebounds to help our offense."

Jordan is stressing rebounding to his fellow guards just as much as Underwood and the coaching staff.

"A lot of people don't think that point guards or smaller guards would rebound and they're like, 'Oh, they're just going to run back,'" Jordan said. "I'm like, 'No, that's the time you go. You get those rebounds.' We can start the break earlier. We can go. We can get out in transition. That's what we want to do."