Underwood: 'You expect roster turnover'

Underwood: 'You expect roster turnover'

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CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood purposefully left two scholarships open during the 2017-18 season. With Mark Alstork as the only "senior" on the roster as a graduate transfer, keeping those scholarships open would provide the opportunity to further grow the program with the 2018 recruiting class and, in theory, inject a little more class balance to the roster.

Situations change. Rosters change.

Illinois has seen four players leave since the end of its 14-18 season and early exit in the Big Ten tournament. Five-star guard Ayo Dosunmu is the lone 2018 signee. Several commits — Alan Griffin, Samba Kane and Giorgi Bezhanishvili — could join him as early as April 11 when the spring signing period opens.

All that and Underwood still has three open scholarships to use for the 2018-19 season. Roster construction — program building with Underwood less than a month past his one-year anniversary — continues for the Illini.

"You expect roster turnover," Underwood said, mentioning the more than 800 transfers in Division I basketball last season. "You expect transfers. You expect to make additions that way. I think we've got a great mindset, a great approach, with our guys right now. ... (You look for players) to be both feet in committed to winning. That's something that will always be a big, big part of our recruiting and our principles."

Who Illinois tabs to fill its remaining open scholarships is still to be determined.

The Illini have made a strong push for four-star Californian Tevian Jones to add athleticism and depth on the wing. Additional backcourt help could come in the form of four-star guard Courtney Ramey or junior college transfer Andres Feliz. Kane and Bezhanishvili boost the Illinois frontcourt, but a veteran presence there in a graduate transfer could be important.

"I like the direction we're going, and I'm really excited about it," Underwood said about Illinois' recruiting. "I've got a tremendous staff who are very, very experienced. Orlando Antigua's done it at the highest level. Chin (Coleman) is as connected as anybody in America, and Jamall (Walker) is a guy that's a proven recruiter. They're understanding now, better, the pieces and the way that I want to do it and the way I want to build it."

Because how Underwood intends to fill out his 2018-19 roster hasn't changed. He's recruiting to his system. Best fit can outweigh best player available. That's something Underwood said he doesn't vary from.

"The character piece is a big part of it," Underwood said. "I traditionally like very skilled players. Our system requires that. ... I like guys that are very different and very versatile and all do something a little different. I can play big if I can play big. I can play small if I can play small."

The one skill set that might tie all of Illinois' recruiting together is passing. Underwood is a passing aficionado. His past teams reflect that. All three of his Stephen F. Austin teams ranked in the top 11 in the country in assist percentage.

Illinois finished the 2017-18 season ranked 128th in the nation in assists per game, 178th in assist-to-turnover ratio and 200th in assist percentage.

"That's a problem," Underwood said specifically referencing his team's 1.07 assists for every turnover this past season. "That's not the way we need to be able to play. ... One of the things we're looking for is guys that can really pass. You look at all four teams in the Final Four — all great passing teams. That tends to lead to winning basketball."