Illini basketball inks five more to 2018 class

Illini basketball inks five more to 2018 class

CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood has been adamant since he was hired. The Illinois coach is going to recruit to his system, his preferred style of play.

Rankings don't mean much.

Character does. Skill does. Size and length at every position does. Passing does perhaps more than any of the above — a constant Underwood used when describing the five players the Illini signed Wednesday to add to five-star guard Ayo Dosunmu in the 2018 class.

Illinois' incoming class now stands at six after four-star guard Tevian Jones, three-star guards Alan Griffin and Andres Feliz and three-star big men Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Samba Kane all signed Wednesday morning. Each of them is a piece to the puzzle of Underwood's roster overhaul and program rebuild at Illinois.

"We have a system, and we are going to recruit to that system," Underwood said. "I think you start to see some tendencies and some of the things we've been looking for. We were looking for a certain skill set.

"We felt like we needed to really improve at every position in terms of shooting, passing, the ability to drive the basketball and the ability to score at the rim. Those were things that all played into these guys being the guys. We've got six new faces that we're awfully excited about in terms of not just next season, but the continued growth of our program."

That growth, for now, is all about youth. Feliz is the only one of the six 2018 signees that won't be an incoming freshmen.

Underwood has yet to tap the graduate transfer market, and it's partly be design. He wants to let his coaching staff do what he feels it does best.

"I feel very, very strongly that one of the things I know our staff takes a lot of pride in is development," Underwood said. "To be very honest, I don't want just good teams. I want a great program. You build a great program from laying the foundation, from the skills to the character."

That's not to say Underwood won't pursue transfers if they're the right fit. It's an option. Just not his preferred method at this point.

"I want to do it through the great guys in the locker room laying the foundation this program can sustain and not just be an up-and-down roller coaster because we're taking fifth-year guys," he said. "Would we? Yeah, but at this point in time, we're in a great place to really build this with a group of guys that everybody on our staff has seen and are excited about."

Underwood called putting that group together "a process." Dosunmu was the only projected member of Illinois' 2018 class between his commitment on Oct. 19 and signing on Nov. 8 and Griffin's commitment on March 2.

"Our staff busted their tails on this class because it did draw itself out a little bit," Underwood said. "I think that's the world we're all living in. I think kids are waiting longer. I think kids are waiting to see how rosters shake out and who declares and who does this. I think we'll continue to see a lot of late signees, and it may be smarter sometimes than to sign them all early."

Even after signing five players Wednesday, Illinois has one scholarship still available. It's a scholarship Underwood intends to use.

"In a perfect world, I'd love another frontcourt guy," he said. "We'd love a frontcourt piece that fits and can score and do some of the same things that we need to be successful. We'll continue to knock down those doors and see where that takes us."