Illini rebuild still a work in progress

Illini rebuild still a work in progress

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood speaks from experience when he stresses the need for patience in reigniting a basketball program. He also readily admits patience is not his strong suit, but he’s seen what time and effort establishing the culture and foundation of a program can accomplish.

Underwood’s lone season as associate head coach at South Carolina under Frank Martin yielded a 14-18 record and tie for 12th in the SEC in 2012-13. While Underwood left to become a head coach — first at Stephen F. Austin then Oklahoma State and now Illinois — he saw Martin post another sub-.500 record in 2013-14 before steadily building the Gamecocks into a Final Four team last season.

“You have to put your stamp on it, and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Underwood said. “I understand the social media world. Everybody wants instant gratification, and everybody wants the instant success. It’s great when you get to it, but sometimes it’s work.

“There’s moments where you have to grow and have to develop and have to be patient. … I’ve been here before. We’ll get this back to its rightful place.”

Illinois got an early start on the next phase of Underwood’s program building after a 14-18 season and opening round exit Wednesday from the Big Ten tournament. Offseason meetings and workouts will come.

“We’ll be back in the weight room with (strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher),” Underwood said. “It’s an area we’ve got to make major strides in — our conditioning, our stamina, our physical strength. We take the offseason very serious. … We’ve always been able to make players better and get them working on things that aren’t strengths for them.”

Illinois’ immediate offseason focus, though, is recruiting and continued roster building.

The Illini took one step forward Friday with a commitment from 2018 guard Alan Griffin. The son of former NBA journeyman Adrian Griffin fills one of the Illini’s major needs as a prolific — and more importantly, efficient — three-point shooter.

Shooting isn’t the only need Illinois has to address after a disappointing 2017-18 season. The Illini weren’t “overly big” or  “overly athletic” this season, according to Underwood. Illinois isn’t necessarily done pursuing help on the wing, getting more athletes, but big man jumped to a more prominent spot on the Illini’s must have list after Griffin’s commitment.

Underwood also considers the 2018 class “not overly deep” when it comes to what would be considered elite level big man prospects.

“That doesn’t mean there’s guys that can’t play,” he said. “You start looking at pieces of the puzzle and how they fit in different systems. You’ve got to find them. That’s why we’re literally all over the world.”

Underwood added a pair of international bigs last spring and summer in Greg Eboigbodin (Nigeria via Detroit) and Matic Vesel (Slovenia). Illinois’ 2018 big man recruiting is following a similar path. In the last three days alone, the Illini have offered 6-foot-9 Valdir Manuel (Angola via New Jersey), 6-10 Giorgi Bezhanishvili (Republic of Georgia via Austria and New Jersey) and 6-11 Samba Kane (Senegal via Colorado and Florida).

It’s here Underwood again stresses the need for patience, using Isaac Haas’ development in four years at Purdue as example.

“It takes time to find bigs,” Underwood said. “Bigs develop at a completely different rate than most, but there’s some out there. We’ll find our share, and we’re on them. It’s something we’ve got to get better at. We’ve got to get bigger, and we understand that.”

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Bwp 5P wrote on March 03, 2018 at 4:03 pm

I believe in you Coach! Loved the way the team played.....Most of the time.....this year! I will 68, with a Bad heart........I'd sureley appreciate you not taking 4-5 years to get us back to A Contender!!


Go Illini!

Moonpie wrote on March 03, 2018 at 4:03 pm

This is overly generous to the debacle we witnessed this season, but then Dr. Richey is the replacement for Tate as chief apologist. The Gazoo sportywiters cheer lead until time to throw someone under the bus.