CHAMPAIGN — Giorgi Bezhanishvili doesn’t always like to publicly discuss the details of the work he puts in during his extra workouts at Ubben Basketball Complex. Given the opportunity, the Illinois sophomore forward would much rather discuss his teammates and what they’re doing together to improve on last season’s disappointing 12-21 finish.
That said, with a little prompting, the Georgian big man does provide a little insight into how he’s developing his game this summer. He gets up at 5 a.m. to get to Ubben and is typically first in the gym to get shots up before several of his teammates join him to do the same in advance of the more organized workouts and now practices in preparation for the Italy trip.
Bezhanishvili also tries to be the last in the gym at Ubben at night. More shots. More work on his game.
“If you ask any other guys, I live at Ubben Basketball Complex pretty much,” he said. “I don’t know why I’m paying rent at an apartment because I pretty much live at Ubben. I get a lot of shots up.”
Those shots are important. Bezhanishvili finished his freshman season as Illinois’ third-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game. Most of his production, though, came around the basket. He shot just 16.7 percent from three-point range.
The paint will be a little more crowded in the 2019-20 season. Kofi Cockburn — all 7 feet and 290 pounds of him — will team up with Bezhanishvili in the frontcourt. Illinois coach Brad Underwood intends to play them together, which means Bezhanishvili will have to stretch his game to the perimeter.
Underwood said doing so could show off more of Bezhanishvili’s full abilities.
“We saw a very limited Giorgi in terms of Giorgi’s ball handling,” Underwood said, also mentioning the thumb injury the 6-foot-9 forward played with all season. “He’s a proven shooter that shot a really bad percentage last year by his standard. He’s capable of that and a really good passer.”
Stretching Bezhanishvili out to the perimeter, though, doesn’t mean he’ll spend all of his time at the three-point line. Underwood doesn’t want to rob him of what made him an impact freshman last season.
“We sure the heck don’t want to forget about Giorgi’s true strength, which is in the post-up area,” Underwood said. “He’s a ton to handle there as well. It’s one of the things we’re working at, we’re looking at. That’s what will make Italy pretty meaningful is to be able to throw those two out there together.”
Bezhanishvili is confident he and Cockburn can make it work on the court together. He’s not worried.
“Before I came here, naturally, I’ve been playing the 4 all my life,” Bezhanishvili said. “All my life, I’ve been playing with another big on the court. As talented a guy as Kofi is and as great an IQ he has and we all know his physical ability to help us on the court, we have a feel for each other. I can’t think of anybody stopping us.
“Then the great guards that we have — Ayo (Dosunmu), (Andres Feliz), Trent (Frazier) — it can be really, really scary. We’re just getting that feel right now. As coach said, we’re experimenting right now having different sets where Kofi and me are on the court at the same time. We definitely, definitely can work it out. It could be really, really scary. I always say this — it could be un-defendable.”