Underwood: 'Basketball is strong'

Underwood: 'Basketball is strong'

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois officially started its 2017-18 season with a Saturday morning practice.

Lingering, though, over all of college basketball — the Illini included — was the federal bribery and corruption charges and arrests early in the week of four high major assistant coaches and six others connected to the sport.

Brad Underwood's connection to now-fired Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans brought Illinois at least into the picture of the scandal coverage. They have a relationship that dates nearly a decade with joint coaching stops at Kansas State, South Carolina and Oklahoma State.

"There's some things that came to light that surprised everybody," Underwood said. "I think we've got the greatest sport in college basketball. I think we're part of one of the greatest sporting events in the NCAA tournament.

"Maybe there's a speed bump along the way and changes need to occur, but this is one of those moments where basketball is strong."

Underwood declined to comment more about this week's revelations, referring back to the statement he issued Wednesday. His focus Saturday morning was on his team.

The Illini enter the 2017-18 season with almost an entirely new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes and seven new players on a 16-deep roster.

"It's my time to hang 'em up when the first day of practice rolls around and I'm not like a kid in a candy store that's excited and anxious," Underwood said, being sure to mention a strong preseason for his team with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher.

"I hope we can bottle a little bit of that energy and enthusiasm and bring it out in January and February when we need it," Underwood added. "We've got 42 days before the first game and 30 practices to get everybody dialed in, and we'll do that."

The Illinois players were just as ready for the official start of the season. Redshirt sophomore forward Kipper Nichols said Illinois' newest players came in ready to work and the returning players have taken on leadership roles.

"I think despite our youth we'll be really good," Nichols said. "Our system, combined with the personnel we've got, I think everybody's going to be effective, and I think we're going to give ourselves a chance to win a lot of ball games."

Redshirt junior forward Michael Finke called the lead up to the official start of practice "a long spring, summer and fall."

"Ready to go at it with no time limit and go to work," Finke said. "The intensity and style of play is the biggest thing. A lot of teaching and a lot of learning."

That's what differed about Saturday morning's three-hour practice. With contact limited during the preseason, it was the longest the Illinois coaches and players had been on the court together since Underwood was hired. Preseason workouts didn't top an hour.

"Now, we can start putting concepts together back to back to back because you have time to do that," Underwood said. "You can intermingle a little more detail. ... Now, getting them to be much more aggressive is my challenge. We've played too conservative on both ends of the court, and we've done that through preseason."

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Moonpie wrote on October 01, 2017 at 8:10 am

Basketball is strong! Except for the corruption, of course.

We'll see, Mr. Latest Coaching Installment. You haven't done anything yet.

Cobra Soccer Dad wrote on October 01, 2017 at 9:10 am

Moonie-  you make me glad I'm me on a daily basis.  It must suck to wake up every morning with hate in your heart.  Time to let it go