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Illinois has tapped into the international basketball market since Brad Underwood was hired in March 2017. Since, the Illini basketball coach has added eight players born in eight different countries other than the United States — a group that includes five players on the 2019-20 roster.
Where Illinois has yet to make any recruiting inroads, however, is in America’s neighbors to the north. Albeit not without some serious effort by both Underwood and his staff and former Illini coach John Groce and his staff. Since 2013, Illinois has offered nearly two dozen Canadians. None have said yes.
Tapping into basketball in Canada, though, is probably a good idea. A record six Canadians were selected in the 2019 NBA Draft, including four first-rounders in R.J. Barrett, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Brandon Clarke and Mfiondu Kabengele. Second rounders Iggy Brazdeikis and Marial Shayok got Canada to an even half dozen — bettering the five Frenchmen drafted in 2016.
Illinois offered both Alexander-Walker (a Groce recruit) and Brazdeikis (an Underwood recruit). Other notable Canadians the Illini targeted in the last seven classes include current NBA players and Groce recruits Jamal Murray and Dillon Brooks.
Underwood has offered 10 Canadians since he got the Illinois job, including four in the 2018 class. In addition to Brazdeikis (drafted after a one-and-done year at Michigan), Illinois targeted Luguentz Dort (signed a two-way contact with the Oklahoma City Thunder after one season at Arizona State), A.J. Lawson (still at South Carolina) and Maurice Calloo (in limbo after being dismissed at Oklahoma State).
Underwood and Co. got the closest with Quebec native Quincy Guerrier in the 2019 class. The Illini were in the four-star wing’s top three with Syracuse and Oregon before he chose the Orange. But even missing on every Canadian target thus far doesn’t mean Illinois is putting the kibosh on trying to establish Canadian pipeline.
The Illini are heavily involved with 2020 prospects Addison Patterson, Keon Ambrose-Hylton and Karim Mané in addition to 2021 recruit Charles Bediako. Patterson, who averaged 12.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists for Team WhyNot in its runner-up finish at Peach Jam, has still yet to make a decision on his potential reclassification to the 2019 class. Illinois has two scholarships open after Samba Kane’s decision to transfer.
The most interesting of Illinois’ current Canadian targets, though, is Mané. The Quebec native is the only of the four that isn’t playing high school basketball in the U.S., which would make him eligible again in 2020 for the NBA draft as an international prospect (status he actually had this year). Mané played for Team Canada — along with Ambrose-Hylton and Bediako — at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece earlier this month. The 6-foot-4 point guard was Canada’s second-leading scorer in the event behind Lawson, and he averaged 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists in seven games.