Coach Speak: Illini men's basketball media day

Coach Speak: Illini men's basketball media day

Perfect score

Wednesday was Illinois' 10th practice of the 2017-18 season, and Underwood considered his team 100 percent on good practices heading into it. Underwood said he's been impressed with how his veteran players have contributed to the Illini's culture and the "off the chart" energy the Illini freshmen have shown even if they "don't know very much at this point."

"One of the truly positive things is I think we've established our culture," Underwood said. "Our culture has been about work ethic and the extra work and getting guys in to get extra shots and do the little things that are counted upon to win. ... I can honestly say we're 9 for 9. We haven't had a bad day. We're following that script very well, and that's a big part of continuing to grow."

Impact transfer

Mark Alstork didn't arrive on campus until classes started in August. That put the Wright State graduate transfer behind even the Illini freshmen who spent their summer in Champaign. It didn't take long, however, for the 6-foot-5 guard to find his place on the team.

"His first three or four practices were just OK," Underwood said. "As he fit in, he's really stepped up his level of play on both ends of the court as he's gotten more comfortable with everything."

Underwood knew Alstork could score after he averaged 19 points last season at Wright State. Alstork's competitiveness, passing ability and defense added to Underwood's overall impressions of the guard.

"Some of the things I wasn't sure about, he's been a lot better at," Underwood said. "He's a guy that's going to play a lot of positions as well. He's a guy we can rip off screens. He makes open shots, and he's got a unique talent in making challenged shots."

Something to prove

Multiple publications have Illinois ranked in the bottom tier of the Big Ten — anywhere from 10th to 13th — in their preseason polls. Underwood understands why. He's in his first season with the team. The Illini haven't made an NCAA tournament since 2012-13. Replacing a player like Malcolm Hill — among other key players from last season — won't be easy.

Underwood might understand, but he certainly doesn't agree with how his team is being viewed.

"Good, I've got something to go to practice with today," he said. "I didn't know that. All I know is I've got Southern coming up on (Nov. 10). I think this team is better than that. I think they're a team that is going to play hard. If you play hard and do it 30-some nights a year, you're going to win your fair share of games."