CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood made his intent clear early in his tenure at Illinois.
International recruiting would play a part in the Illini men’s basketball roster building.
Underwood and the Illinois staff have followed two parallel recruiting trails in that regard landing both international prospects with a background playing high school and grassroots basketball in the U.S. and those that have been plucked straight from Europe.
Kofi Cockburn had a bigger reputation as the Jamaica native became a four-star, top-50 recruit after three seasons at Christ The King (N.Y.) and one at Oak Hill Academy (Va.) — both basketball powers — but none of Illinois’ international additions have had as high an international profile as Zacharie Perrin.
The 6-foot-11, 220-pound French forward committed to the Illini on Monday, joining a 2022 recruiting class already considered one of the top 10 in the country.
“Coach Underwood and (assistant coach Geoff) Alexander came up with a very detailed plan for how to take my skill set and body to the next level,” Perrin told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. “They analyzed my film, figured out my strengths and weaknesses and laid out a plan that made a lot of sense.
“They are a winning program, coming off back-to-back Big Ten championships,” Perrin continued. “They are also a team that needed a rotation big, so there is a chance I can help them right away.”
Perrin’s profile has only risen in the last year in Europe.
First came making France’s roster for the FIBA U18 European Challengers last summer as a 16-year-old and celebrating his 17th birthday in Tel Aviv as France competed in the replacement event for the COVID-19 canceled FIBA U18 European Championship. Perrin averaged 9.2 points and six rebounds in five games in Israel on a team that also featured projected 2024 NBA first-round draft pick Sidy Cissoko and 2023 Illinois recruiting target Jazz Gardner, who lives in California and has dual citizenship.
That turned into an MVP-caliber 2021-22 season playing for Antibes on the second-tier French professional team’s U21 squad. Perrin averaged 21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals and shot 59.3 percent from the field.
This spring presented two more opportunities for Perrin to bolster his reputation. He was the MVP at the adidas Next Generation qualifying tournament in Greece in April, putting up 17.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. That earned him a spot on the Next Generation All-Star Team at the Euroleague Final Four in Serbia, where he averaged 10 points and 5.8 rebounds.
The next stop for Perrin will be Illinois. At least after the 2022 FIBA U18 European Championship in Izmir, Turkey.
“I didn’t consider college until very late in the process since I was focused on going pro with Antibes,” Perrin told Givony. “UCLA, Texas, Florida, Memphis and BYU all recruited me, but the facilities, staff and the overall level of the Big Ten made it difficult to pass up Illinois. Once college programs started to present their projects, it became clear to me that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t have a ton of European options outside of Antibes because of French league regulations.”
Perrin will join a mostly new-look Illinois roster. The French forward is the fifth incoming freshmen in the Class of 2022 and eighth total newcomer counting Dain Dainja, who was a midseason transfer in January. Perrin joins an Illini frontcourt that returns just part-time starter Coleman Hawkins and backup center Brandon Lieb and will lean heavily on Dainja and fellow Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer.
The addition of Perrin should also round out Illinois’ roster for the 2022-23 season.
The Illini had two open scholarships before Perrin’s Monday commitment, and Underwood has said on multiple occasions that he would prefer to leave at least one scholarship open. That’s both to create flexibility to add mid-year transfers and the fact keeping 13 scholarship players happy, as Underwood added, is a challenge.