CHAMPAIGN — Offseason roster moves are already underway at Illinois.
Adam Miller out. Omar Payne in.
Brad Underwood can’t discuss the latter — not until the now former Florida big man has signed the necessary paperwork and is officially on the team. And he is simply opting not to discuss the former beyond the statement he released after Miller entered the portal last week.
“To say I’m surprised by anything in today’s world, I’m not,” Underwood said Monday in relation to Miller’s decision, the first time the Illini coach addressed reporters since his team’s 71-58 loss to Loyola Chicago in the second round of the NCAA tournament on March 21.
Those first two roster moves for the 2021-22 season, though, happened before Illinois had a chance to wrap up its standout 2020-21 campaign. A bit of unfinished business still lingers before the Illini can be, as Underwood regularly says, on to the next.
The players that could go home did so after the team made it back to Champaign following its unexpected loss to the Ramblers. It was a first since June.
Nine straight months in a bubble of their own making meant Underwood wanted to give the Illini a chance to unwind, decompress. And do it away from Champaign.
“We’re all in online classes, so as soon as we got back they’ve been gone,” Underwood said. “We haven’t had any postseason meetings as of yet. We’ll start having those discussions as we get back into the rest of the spring.”
So Miller’s decision to leave came before the freshman guard had a chance to discuss his first season at Illinois — and what might be next — with Underwood and his Illini staff. Not that he had to discuss his decision. That’s not how the transfer portal works.
“That’s the world we’re in,” Underwood said. “They don’t have to tell us anything. They hold all the cards. That’s the one thing we’re all going to continually deal with throughout our sport now. … Everything’s on the table at this point as we really move through this for the first time. The one thing we do is we want guys who want to be a part of what we do. As we have end-of-the-season meetings, we’ll have those discussions.”
Those discussions could shape the rest of Illinois’ 2021-22 roster. Senior guards Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams could both take advantage of their pandemic-related bonus year of eligibility. That will be the focus of their year-end conversation with Underwood.
“It’s an evaluation process,” Underwood said. “They’ve both done great things here and been a part of it. I think you’ve got to sit down and discuss what they want out of their futures and what they want that to look like it. Obviously, nobody thinks more of those two young men than I do and wants what’s best for them in any way, shape or form. We’ll have those discussions, get those answers and then make informed decisions from there.”
Kofi Cockburn has a decision to make, too. The 7-foot center entered his name in the 2020 NBA draft, but withdrew and returned to Illinois for his sophomore season where he became a consensus Second Team All-American. A similar decision awaits for the Kingston, Jamaica, native. He has until May 30 to declare for the draft as an early entrant, and the NBA has set a July 19 deadline to either affirm that choice or withdraw. The NCAA deadline for the latter has yet to be announced, but has been before the NBA deadline on the draft calendar.
“It’s always about information,” Underwood said. “He’s got a different body of work than he had last year. All those things are to be determined by those next-level guys. It’s about processing all that information, looking at that and seeing what it looks like.”
Underwood has at least been processing the transfer portal since Illinois’ season ended. He hasn’t been able to bring himself to watch the season-ending loss to Loyola Chicago, but he and his assistants have already started mining the portal. Payne is likely the first of what will could become multiple offseason additions.
“Fortunately, we’re like everybody else in the country probably looking at every position,” Underwood said. “We know there’s some things we’ve got to address and want to get better and look to improve. I think that’s the one thing the portal provides is an opportunity to get some immediate impact tin certain areas. We can do that.”