GIFFORD — Brad Underwood opened his week with a pair of relaxed events. Monday was the 97th annual Kiwanis Illinois Basketball Banquet, with approximately 300 Illini fans turning out at the I Hotel. More than twice that many fans made their way to Gordyville USA on Tuesday for the Kickin' Cancer Dinner & Auction.
Today? The Illinois men's basketball coach returns to the offseason grind.
Spring workouts have been underway for a couple weeks at Ubben. The spring signing period starts today, with the Illini entering it having signed zero players from the 2019 class albeit with multiple commitments.
"It's so big for our current guys because we're in the weight room and we're in workouts," Underwood said. "When you've got a really young team, to get into the weight room and change bodies and get stronger — to have their first offseason — is big.
"We're able to fill some needs (recruiting), but we've got a locker room of guys that are back and getting better. When you put it all together it becomes a pretty big spring for us."
While today is the first day 2019 recruits can sign, the spring period extends until May 15. Illinois remains in a holding pattern for the likes of four-star center Kofi Cockburn and unranked power forward Bernard Kouma, while the official status of Antwan January remains unclear but unlikely to sign given the Illini took a commitment from Kouma last week.
It's the second spring Illinois will sign the majority of its class. Ayo Dosunmu was the only player among ultimately six freshmen in the 2018 class to sign during the early period in November.
Underwood expects that to become more the norm than the exception. While he'd like to have a better idea of his future team in the fall, that expectation is lessening.
"I think it's becoming harder and harder to do that," Underwood said. "You've got so many kids transferring. You look for continuity, sure, and that's what we were able to get this year. We've got 12 or 13 guys that are going through offseason stuff now, which is really nice.
"I think it's an everchanging world. There will probably be maybe not less emphasis on November, but I think you feel pretty comfortable if you've got scholarships in the spring."
The shift from November signings to spring signings — coupled with the ever-increasing number of transfers between sit-and-play and graduate transfers — could mean a shift in the basics of recruiting. Underwood has mentioned a couple times that he's spoken with one college coach that said he's done recruiting high school players.
"Just wait and stay old and take a bunch of transfers," Underwood said is that coach's plan. "When you do that you're basically going to be a one-year type program. ... I don't like that. I love young kids.
"I love the process of really getting to know them and the process of working with them and getting them better. I think you're always going to find some way to fill your spots. Now, with transfers, that's a pretty popular way."
The recruiting calendar changes this offseason, too. Coaches get a new evaluation period this month from April 26-28 followed by a four-day recruiting period for in-person, off-campus contact. Then the rest of May is split between quiet periods and a nine-day dead period.
Evaluation periods were added in June — a first. The July portion of the recruiting calendar, which was once three straight extended weekends of evaluation periods, changed to one weekend and then a longer week for NCAA youth development camps. Illinois will host one of those on campus between July 23-28.
"I think we're all maybe in a little bit of a wait and see," Underwood said about how the change in the recruiting calendar could affect how recruiting actually works. "I think there are so many new things it's probably too early to comment on. We'll see how those are received. ... It does put some emphasis on the April period — we just have one — to get out and see the guys. We identified (Monday) and (Tuesday) where we're going to be and how we're going to break that period up."