CHAMPAIGN — Illinois’ recruiting philosophy hasn’t changed with the Class of 2020. Brad Underwood is still casting a wide net for prospects, with offers out to players from all corners of the country. That includes a bevy of international prospects — originally from Canada, Russia, Puerto Rico and Nigeria — playing high school hoops in the United States.
Nearly 40 percent of Illinois’ open offers in the Class of 2020, though, have been to players on the East Coast. The Illini have momentum in that part of the country since Underwood — and assistant coach Orlando Antigua — arrived. Illinois landed five players with East Coast ties ahead of the 2018-19 season and added to that by signing two more this offseason.
Antigua’s connections in that part of the country have paid off. They also have Illinois in a good spot with 2020 three-star recruit D.J. Gordon. The 6-foot-6, 170-pound wing is a Pittsburgh native.
"Me and coach Orlando Antigua have a personal relationship," Gordon said. Antigua played at Pittsburgh and also returned to his alma mater to serve on Jamie Dixon’s coaching staff for five seasons. "He knows my family a little bit. I was kind of excited when I got the offer from Illinois. Me and him have a nice, tight relationship."
Gordon lives in the Garfield neighborhood in northeast Pittsburgh and originally attended Obama Academy, and was an all-city pick for the Eagles after putting up 22 points per game. His breakout as a prospect, though, came after he transferred 35 miles southwest to First Love Christian Academy in Washington, Pa., and played a national schedule with the Knights for his junior year.
Gordon’s national exposure continued this spring playing for Team Final on the Nike EYBL circuit after spending the previous AAU season with the New York Jayhawks. The latter is the same program that helped develop Illini sophomore Giorgi Bezhanishvili and features 2020 Illini target Andre Curbelo — a Puerto Rican native point guard playing for Long Island Lutheran (N.Y.).
Gordon drew his Illinois offer after the first EBYL weekend in late April, which saw him go off for 27 points, seven rebounds and two assists in a loss to Houston Hoops. Gordon finished the EYBL regular season averaging 10.7 points and 2.3 rebounds. He shot 50.5 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three-point range in 13 games.
"I feel like my game is progressing good," Gordon said, adding he’s continuing to work on his ball handling, shooting and cardio. "I’m just coming out here and competing with the best. That’s all. I’m trying to show everybody who D.J. Gordon really is."
Gordon describes himself as a two-way player that can get up and down the court offensively, score in transition and defend. He likes what he’s heard from Antigua about how he might fit at Illinois.
"I know they get up and down and they defend hard and play really hard," Gordon said. "I like that in a team. (Antigua) says I can be a great wing player the way they set their offense up coming off screens and going to the hole. I feel like I’ll be a good fit."
Gordon has received other offers this spring from Pittsburgh, Providence, Georgia Tech and DePaul. He previously had offers from VCU, Wichita State, Virginia Tech, Arizona State, TCU, South Florida, Dayton, Monmouth, Central Connecticut State, Eastern Michigan, Hofstra and Kent State.
"I plan on taking my visits at the end of August," Gordon said. "Illinois is on that list. A couple other teams — Pitt’s on that list — and I plan on taking a visit to Arizona also."