College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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Illinois center Samba Kane (34) pulls down a rebound near Minnesota center Daniel Oturu (25) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Champaign, Ill., Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Danzl)

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Going to be a rather brief chat this week with just a couple of questions. Just a reminder with our new format that you can submit questions via our new online form, via Twitter or simply email our beat writer (srichey@news-gazette.com) your questions. 

Now to this week's questions ...

What is the status of Bernard Kouma? And can you provide any insight into Samba Kane's situation? Is there any chance he removes his name from the portal, or is he gone? -- Chris Spanos

The question was asked about Bernard Kouma's pending arrival in Champaign yesterday, and there's still no clear answer on when he might make it to campus. The freshman big man graduated last month from Our Saviour Lutheran (N.Y.), and the only remaining hurdle is his clearance through the NCAA eligibility center. That still has yet to happen, and there wasn't any update provided yesterday about when that would actually occur.

When it comes to Samba Kane, his transfer was a surprise in context to how the coaching staff had talked about him this offseason. I spoke with Orlando Antigua about him in the late spring, and the Illini assistant was pleased with the growth the 7-footer had shown. Underwood made similar comments last month. Now, it's theoretically possible Kane could pull his name from the transfer portal and return, but I'd say the odds of that happening are next to nonexistent. Illinois removed Kane from its online roster. He's gone.

How good will the volleyball team be this year? Who's going to win the setter position? Who will win the other middle spot? -- Melissa Mathews

Losing two All-Americans like Jordyn Poulter and Ali Bastianelli would be a blow to most teams. Illinois is going to have to figure out what it's team is without those two longtime standouts. That said, the talent level on this team buoyed by Jacqueline Quade's return after a breakout junior season bodes well for more success. Prognosticating in July, I'd say it's at least a Sweet 16 caliber team with the potential for more.

The setter battle could well determine Illinois' level of success, and right now I couldn't say there's a clear cut favorite. Diana Brown spent the 2018 season learning from Illinois coach Chris Tamas and Poulter, which is basically the best master class you could take. She also got some experience this summer playing in Italy with Team USA in the 2019 University Games. Allison, of course, has the experience of playing last year at Auburn and leans more toward Poulter when it comes to physicality. She also got more international experience this summer playing with the Collegiate National Team in Japan. Illinois has two setters that can start. It's not a bad problem to have.

Wisconsin Illinois Volleyball

Illinois middle blocker Ashlyn Fleming (12) celebrates with outside hitter Jacqueline Quade (7) after a point during the fourth set of the Elite 8 match of the NCAA 2018 Division I Women's Volleyball Championship against Wisconsin at Huff Hall Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.Women's Volleyball Championship against Wisconsin at Huff Hall Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.

When it comes to the second middle blocker spot in tandem with Ashlyn Fleming, freshman Rylee Hinton has the upper hand. The Champaign Central product enrolled early so has a full spring under her belt to go with her experience playing in Japan with the Big Ten Foreign Tour Team. But I'd expect fellow freshman Kyla Swanson and Ellie Holzman to challenge for that spot. I thought it was interesting Holzman was listed on the roster as a OH/MB combo. The Illini are pretty well set at OH for this season, so the path to playing time for the Gatorade Player of the Year might be in the middle.

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).