Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning on Brad Underwood’s team.
Illinois wrapped up a busy Friday with an open practice from 6-7:30 p.m. at Ubben Basketball Complex. It was my second trip of the day to the Illini's practice facility after a couple hours worth of media day earlier Friday.
Seeing the team on the court — particularly with five-on-five action to end practice — provided a good review of what this particular team has going for it. Some thoughts:
— Fans were lined up at least two-deep on the balcony level at Ubben before the 6 p.m. start. People are interested in this team, and outside expectations have never been higher in the Brad Underwood era.
— The only player not available was Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound freshman out of Lommel, Belgium, has been cleared medically after his leg injury this summer, but the Illini coaches want to ease him back on the court.
— Class of 2020 four-star guard KK Robinson was in attendance at Ubben for the start of his official visit. The Arkansas native is one of the few remaining targets in the 2020 class for the Illini (at least at this juncture of the recruiting calendar). He was rocking a red and yellow Oak Hill Academy hoodie since he's playing his final season of high school ball at the powerhouse prep school. Current Illinois freshman Kofi Cockburn played his senior year at Oak Hill as well.
— The first break in the action for some on-court instruction featured new assistant Stephen Gentry doing the coaching. While Illinois was mostly working through individual and team drills, it was Gentry who had the most prominent voice after Underwood. Makes sense if Gentry was added to the staff because of his rep for player development.
— Giorgi Bezhanishvili made the most daring fashion choice of the practice, rolling up the bottom of his shorts for an uber short shorts look. Basketball wise, the sophomore forward played quite a bit at the 4 alongside either Cockburn or Jermaine Hamlin. Bezhanishvili was featured more on the perimeter, and he handled the ball more than he did last season.
— Underwood has his voice back, and it boomed at times during the practice. An early bout of bronchitis last preseason saw the Illinois coach basically not at full volume throughout the 2018-19 season.
— The new three-point line has not fazed Trent Frazier. The lefty junior's jump shot is still pure.
— While there were a few familiar ill-advised lob passes, a good one is more likely to be finished with a dunk this season with either Cockburn or Hamlin on the receiving end.
— Two notes on Ayo Dosunmu. The sophomore guard hit teammate Andres Feliz with an NBA-ready quick cross at one point in practice that put Feliz on skates and left Dosunmu open for an easy mid-range jumper, which he made.
Dosunmu was also involved in the moment that brought a gasp to the fans in attendance when took a hard fall (basically a face plant) after slipping off the rim. He sat out a couple plays and then was back on the court and able to pin a block off the backboard on a Da'Monte Williams layup attempt.
— Another Frazier note. He's much more vocal on the court than I recall from practices I got to watch last season.
— Finally, Illinois has what can only be described as its own version of the "Death Lineup" with a backcourt of Dosunmu, Feliz and Frazier matched up with Bezhanishvili and Cockburn. The bigs make up for a smaller trio of guards, and that group was lethal in transition playing together.