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).

Mississippi Valley State Illi

Illinois guard Trent Frazier (1) defends against Mississippi Valley State guard Tereke Eckwood (5) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the State Farm Center Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign. Illinois won the game 86-67.Stephen Haas/The News-Gazette ¿ Illinois guard Trent Frazier (1) defends against Mississippi Valley State guard Tereke Eckwood (5) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the State Farm Center Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign. Illinois won the game 86-67.

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Afternoon everybody. Fall sports might be gearing up to start at Illinois, but you know me. It's always basketball season (even though I'm down for volleyball and football questions if you want). Volleyball in particular. The Illini are ranked No. 6 nationally heading into the season and have the talent, in my opinion, to compete at the top of the Big Ten again this year. Just need to lock down that setter position.

Thanks in advance to everybody that submitted questions. The more, the merrier, and you can continue to do so on Twitter (@srrichey) or email (srichey@news-gazette.com) or through our online submission form.

Let's get to this week's questions:

When will schedule be available? -- Dave B.

When is the basketball schedule going to come out? -- Eric W.

This is a popular question. The answer I have, unfortunately, won't be very illuminating. I asked about the schedule in late July before Illinois left for its Italy trip. The answer then was sometime in early August. Considering it's now Aug. 21, that clearly didn't come to pass.

However, we now know eight (of the probably 11) nonconference games. So even without Illinois actually releasing its schedule, there's at least some insight into who the Illini will play outside of Big Ten competition. Those last three games, though? Even I'm getting impatient.

Any word on Benjamin? -- Phil M.

Freshman Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk was, of course, held out of Illinois' four-game slate in Italy for a precautionary reason. The games didn't actually matter, so there was no need to exacerbate the leg injury he suffered when he arrived on campus this summer.

Brad Underwood said Monday that the Belgian forward had another doctor's appointment in the next week to further evaluate where he's at. Underwood hasn't expressed a lot of concern about the severity (or lack thereof) of the injury, so that's a good sign, I guess.

Assuming with the signing of another center Kouma isn't coming? -- Khan E.S.

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Lincoln's Jermaine Hamlin goes up for a rebound with Mahomet-Seymour's Kobe Essien and Cole Lener at Mahomet-Seymour High School on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018.

That seems like a pretty fair assumption to make. Jermaine Hamlin's official signing on Tuesday technically puts Illinois at 14 scholarship players. That is, of course, one too many.

The fact the academic year starts Aug. 26 and Brad Underwood didn't have any clarity on whether or not Bernard Kouma would be cleared by the NCAA eligibility center this Monday doesn't bode well for the big man out of New York (via the Republic of Chad). Still Underwood told us media types they expect Kouma to still be an Illini. That was before they announced Hamlin's addition, but I still don't know what to make of that statement.

Hey Scott, do you think Kouma heads to prep school and Hamlin gets the last scholly? Or maybe vice versa if Kouma clears? I just shook my head when I read Brad Underwood's comment about Andres Feliz/Kofi Cockburn and the Italy trip, "What the actual snafu was we don’t know." -- Sam B.

I honestly don't know what Bernard Kouma will do this coming season. A prep school year could be possible. But maybe he lands at another D-I program that doesn't start classes in five days? It's kind of a mystery. At this point, though, I'd say that the 13th and final scholarship does now belong to Jermaine Hamlin.

Underwood's answer about Feliz/Cockburn was in response to my question about what was missed about their travel status (and when it was missed) that threw up the roadblock in Miami. That they took them that first leg, to me, is a bad look. Illinois clearly thought it had everything it needed and then didn't. 

Now, I didn't expect Underwood to throw anybody on his staff or from the DIA under the bus. It was a question I felt was necessary to ask, but the answer didn't really reveal much.

What happens if Bernard Kouma is cleared to play this season? -- John

I feel pretty safe in saying Illinois wouldn't have announced Jermaine Hamlin's addition to the roster yesterday if they had any faith Bernard Kouma was going to be cleared. But Kouma is still on the roster as of 4:13 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 21, so who knows? All I do know is the scholarship math with the official roster on the Illinois website as is doesn't work.

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Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette L-R Rylee Hinton, Mica Allison, Morgan O'Brien and Jacqueline Quade, at Huff Hall in Champaign on Wednesday, July 17, 2019.Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette L-R Rylee Hinton, Mica Allison, Morgan O'Brien and Jacqueline Quade, at Huff Hall in Champaign on Wednesday, July 17, 2019.

Which of the (volleyball) newcomers is most likely to be in the rotation early in the year? -- Chet S.

First, shoutout to Chet for the volleyball question. There will be at least one newcomer for sure in the Illinois rotation for the Aug. 30 season opener at Tennessee. One of the freshmen middle blockers has to start. No getting around that given Ashlyn Fleming is the only returning middle.

Given she enrolled early I would probably give Champaign Central grad Rylee Hinton the edge right now, but in the two practices I've seen I was also impressed by freshmen Kyla Swanson and Kennedy Collins (particularly in the attack). It's not a bad thing to have options.

Other newcomers that could figure into the rotation early are Bruna Vrankovic at outside hitter (if she beats out Beth Prince) and Mica Allison at setter (if she beats out Diana Brown or ultimately shares the spot). My dark horse candidate for early playing time, though, is freshman defensive specialist Alyssa Eske. She caught and held my attention last Saturday with her play in the back row. I don't know that she'll unseat either a veteran like Caroline Welsh or last year's breakout freshman DS Taylor Kuper right away, but keep an eye on the Milwaukee native.

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