smith center open house

Illinois men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood talks to former Illini guard Stephen Bardo on Tuesday night during an open house at the Smith Center on the UI campus where discussion on the new name, image and likeness legislation was the main focal point.

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CHAMPAIGN — The likely starting backcourt for Illinois men’s basketball next season is ready for the new era of college athletics.

Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo have both used their personal social-media platforms to put the word out to any brand or business interested in a partnership.

Name, image and likeness has dominated the college athletics headlines this spring and into summer. Thursday is day one of that new era, with a name, image and likeness bill signed into law Tuesday in Illinois by Gov. J.B. Pritzker at State Farm Center and the NCAA approving last-minute, interim NIL provisions for all athletes on Wednesday.

Frazier said he’ll likely be “very busy” come Thursday on Cameo — a digital platform where you can request personalized videos — given the number of messages he’s already received.

And that’s only one potential revenue stream the fifth-year guard is interested in pursuing.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood expressed excitement about the upcoming NIL opportunities for his team. That excitement, of course, is balanced by a sense of trepidation about the unknown with the Illini now “open for business.”

“My thoughts are a little more on the university’s side and how we handle that from compliance and how we handle that from a perspective of the unknown,” Underwood said.

“That scares me a little bit, but from the excitement standpoint, I’m excited for what is ahead for our student-athletes. I think that does nothing but to benefit them, and then we’ll have to manage it as issues come up like anything else.”

Underwood spent plenty of time throughout the 2020-21 season extolling just how many vibrant personalities Illinois had on its roster. The Illini coach has stressed “character over characters” in building his program, but he had both last year. A not-at-all easy rebuild culminated in a Big Ten tournament title and No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament because of a close-knit squad.

Some of those same vibrant personalities are back to build on that rise to college basketball prominence in 2021-22. Frazier and Curbelo are certainly near the top of the list. The former has gained a following from Illinois fans because he stuck through the tough times and opted in for a fifth year. The latter’s style of play captivated the fan base last season.

“We do an unbelievable job within our program of helping our guys brand themselves,” said Underwood, crediting director of creative media Kelsea Ansfield. “Kelsea does a tremendous job of helping promote our guys on social media. That’s going to be a huge part of this. When you have personalities and guys that people want to be associated with, I think that’s something that sells and is something they’ll be able to monetize. We do have charismatic guys and a lot of fun and we’ve had success, so I think it could be very, very beneficial for them.”

Curbelo could tap into several markets given he speaks multiple languages. He’s not alone in that. Illinois has three Puerto Rican guards on its roster in Curbelo, Utah “super-senior” transfer Alfonso Plummer and freshman R.J. Melendez. Given their status as U.S. citizens, they don’t face the same restrictions as international athletes on F-1 student visas.

“I think one of the great things about this is hometowns,” Underwood said. “I think there’s some interest always from hometown favorites or, in their case, Puerto Rico. Being able to do things in Spanish is something that’s another opportunity for these guys to use name, image, likeness. It will be new for everybody and take some adjustment, but I think the opportunity is fantastic.”

Frazier doesn’t see different opportunities from teammate to teammate interrupting the cultural foundation laid for the program. The success the last two seasons was a direct result of a close-knit group in the locker room and on the court. The ability to benefit from NIL opportunities won’t change that in his opinion.

“I don’t think it’s competitive,” Frazier said. “It’s a fair market. Everyone gets the opportunity to use their name, image and likeness to make money for themselves. Obviously, we chat with each other about different ideas and sharing different information.

“Speaking for myself, this has been a huge issue, obviously, that we’ve been trying to get to. This gives student-athletes an opportunity to help their parents out that aren’t financially up there. This gives me an opportunity to make a name for myself. Me being here for four years — one of those guys that’s always stuck around, a fan favorite — this gives me an opportunity to give back to the community.”

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).

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).

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