CHAMPAIGN — Friday was just a normal day for Andre Curbelo.
If you take away announcing his commitment to Illinois men’s basketball and what he estimated was more than 300 messages he received via text or social media once he chose the Illini over Miami in front of a room full of well-wishers at the chapel at Long Island Lutheran (N.Y.). Then, of course, some cake to celebrate before heading back to class.
“It was a crazy day, man,” Curbelo said.
So, not all of Curbelo’s Friday was typical. The start was, though. Curbelo got up early like he always does and made it in for a 7 a.m. workout to get some shots up about 3 1 / 2 hours before he’d close out his recruitment and commit to Brad Underwood and the Illini.
Curbelo ended his workout shooting 10 three-pointers from five different spots on the court. It’s a standard drill. But one that ultimately challenged Curbelo Friday morning.
“When I had two shots left in the last corner I was in pain,” Curbelo said. “My feet were hurting. I was tired. Since it was the day I was committing, a lot of things got in my head. I wanted to cry and got a little emotional. All the pain I had to go through came into my mind.”
So how did he finish?
“I sucked it up,” Curbelo said. “I just pushed and made two shots and finished my workout. That was a good workout. I was really happy I did it.”
The rest of Curbelo’s Friday went pretty well, too.
It was the culmination of the recruiting process that saw him garner offers from nearly three dozen Division I programs. Illinois made the cut every time. First on a list of five that included Miami, Oregon, St. John’s and Indiana. Then in the final three along with the Hurricanes and Ducks. The Illini were ultimately the last one standing — a decision Curbelo said he knew he would make by the last day of his official visit last month to Champaign.
The 12 days between the end of his official visit and Friday announcement allowed Curbelo to make 100 percent sure. Discussing it with his parents, who live in Puerto Rico, finalized the decision.
“I told them (Illinois) was where I wanted to be,” Curbelo said. “This was where I belonged. They’re really happy about it. They liked it a lot. They feel safe, they feel comfortable with me attending the University of Illinois. They’re really happy and glad I made that choice because they know it’s the right one.”
Curbelo’s comfort at Illinois — with the coaching staff and with the players that will be his future teammates — was paramount. He knew he had that connection with the Illini coaches before his official visit. Knowing only Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Kofi Cockburn and Alan Griffin, though, meant finding out more about the Illinois players an important step.
“The connection I had with the players, that was a big one right there,” Curbelo said. “I’m really glad to say I’m going there because those players are great people — not only basketball players. That’s a really good thing. I’m ready to go to work with them already. I’m not even there — I still have a season to take care of in high school — but I’m going to go extremely hard with them. I’m ready. I’m ready to work.”
Part of Curbelo would jump at the chance to start his Illinois basketball career now. But just part. He’s got another state championship to win with Long Island Lutheran. At least that’s the goal.
“Oh, I would,” Curbelo said with some enthusiasm. “I would love to. It would be amazing if I could do that. I’m telling you I would, but being really serious about it, I’m just trying to enjoy every moment that’s happening right now because you can’t go back in life.
“I live in the moment. I love being in high school. High school is a great thing, playing basketball and going to school. I’m going to miss those days. I’m going to take it step by step and take care of business. When it’s time to go to college, it will be the time.”
Long Island Lutheran will play four scrimmages this month before officially starting its season on Dec. 4 against St. Dominic (N.Y.). The highlights of the Crusaders’ schedule, however, are the Iolani Classic (Dec. 17-21) in Honolulu, the Bach Ball Classic (Dec. 27-31) in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Montverde Academy International Tournament (Jan. 23-25) in Montverde, Fla. and a Feb. 8 showdown with Bronny James, Zaire Wade and Sierra Canyon (Calif.) in Toms River, N.J., at the Metro Classic.
“You get to test yourself,” Curbelo said of that schedule, which will include some of the top teams in the country. “Even though I’ve been playing at a really high level all over the world, it’s always good to see where you’re at and see how you’ve improved. Our goal is to win that sate championship again and go back to back and make history.”