CHAMPAIGN — The popularity of the transfer portal has changed the recruiting dynamic in college basketball.
Players always transferred. But coaches seem willing to not only supplement their rosters, but build them from the ground up, with transfers.
When it comes to adding freshmen who might not be able to contribute right away or transfers with college basketball experience and immediate eligibility, the latter has become more popular than ever. Transfer recruiting isn’t happening at the exclusion of high school recruiting, but it’s gained a growing foothold in each of the past two offseasons after the NCAA passed the one-time transfer rule in April 2021.
Brad Underwood might have altered his recruiting approach in the process to accommodate for transfers, but the sixth-year Illinois coach hasn’t bailed on recruiting high school prospects.
His efforts last Thursday should indicate as much, with phone calls starting at midnight when Class of 2024 recruits could be contacted directly for the first time.
“As I was sitting in a car coming back from an event in Chicago, we reached out to some really quality young players,” Underwood said.
The Illinois coaching staff reportedly contacted nearly two dozen prospects in the 2024 class, including James Brown and Nojus Indrusaitis — St. Rita teammates of 2024 commit Morez Johnson Jr. — Curie guard Carlos Harris III, 7-foot Georgia center Peyton Marshall and five-star wing Trenytn Flowers.
“That’s what you can kind of count on June 15 at midnight is most coaches are going to be reaching out to their top priorities,” Underwood continued.
Underwood did note that Illinois’ approach has and will likely continue to change when it comes to high school recruiting. The Illini staff will straddle the line of being both extremely selective but also not missing out on finding a potential recruit that would be a good fit in Champaign.
“I don’t want guys that don’t want to be here and grow,” Underwood said. “I keep using the world development. I think we’re the elite development program in the country. I believe that. From (strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher) to what we do on the court with our coaches, our guys get better.
“That’s very important to me to see guys grow in that area and making sure guys understand that. If they’re talented enough to become one-and-done, I get that, but there’s also tremendous value in age and experience. You have to have that right balance.”
That balance, of course, now includes transfers. Illinois currently has three on its 2022-23 roster in Baylor transfers Dain Dainja and Matthew Mayer and Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr. with the potential to still add more this offseason. Underwood has two open scholarships available, and has said several times he’d like to keep at least one, if not both, open.
“I think it’s very challenging to keep 13 happy,” Underwood said. “I’m not sure you can keep 12 happy. It has to be the right mix, the right fit. I think we’re going to see more and more players available at semester. We got a steal in Dain at semester. A guy that got to practice with us and grow and a guy that’s lost 30-plus pounds since he’s been here. There’s an advantage to that. Having an open scholarship — or two — is not a bad thing.”