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CHAMPAIGN — A recent string of sunny, pleasant weather at the University of Illinois gave way to showers and storms Saturday morning.

No matter. There seemingly was nothing that could dampen the mood of Brad Underwood.

"We've got a campus buzzing with high school students," Underwood said in an appearance on "Saturday SportsTalk," on WDWS 1400-AM, taking a break from the ongoing high school team camp.

"We're trying to dodge a few raindrops, but that's why we play an indoor sport," Underwood added. "It's always fun getting young people on our campus, and they're out here competing and having a lot of fun."

No doubt Underwood hopes connecting those prep stars to the Illini now could pay dividends down the road.

But the third-year Illinois coach also is looking forward to the athletes already in orange and blue, as the squad held its first official summer skills workout on Wednesday.

Among those involved was incoming freshman Kofi Cockburn, who quickly showed Underwood that the 7-foot, 290-pound frame isn't just for show.

"He's a guy that can do things just because of that size and athleticism," Underwood said. "He's extremely fast. He has great hands. I was really impressed with his hands — he catches everything."

Cockburn eventually will be joined by fellow freshmen bigs Bernard Kouma and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, who aren't yet on campus.

Already, though, there exists intrigue about how Cockburn will mesh with incumbent forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili.

"I don't think there's any doubt we'll see them working together," Underwood said. "Giorgi played with some thumb issues last year, and he's a better shooter than what he showed, a better passer than what he showed.

"Yet I don't want to take away from his effectiveness in the post. Our frontcourt might have a different look at times."

Pulling away from the paint, Underwood is closely watching Tevian Jones' development after the 6-7 wing's freshman campaign was hampered by a team-mandated suspension that forced him to miss eight games.

Jones showed flashes of game-changing ability when he did suit up in 2018-19, such as an 18-point effort versus nationally-ranked Maryland, before ultimately finishing with a scoring average of 3.5 points.

"I'm excited as heck about Tev," Underwood said. "He's a guy that has great length, and we know he can shoot it and we need him to be more consistent. He can't be a 30 percent three-point shooter. He needs to be 38 to 43, somewhere in that area, and he's very capable of that."

Underwood continues to be hyped as well for what's to come outside Champaign-Urbana.

That would be Illinois' trip to Italy, slated for August and set to include four exhibition games.

"You get to experiment on the court and look at some different things," Underwood said. "We can look at the big lineup. We can add a few wrinkles or change a few wrinkles on the offensive side. You can do that in live competition."

An overarching theme to Underwood's positivity is that the Illini roster isn't undergoing a significant overhaul.

After Underwood's first year in charge, he watched nine athletes depart for one reason or another. Between Years 2 and 3, that figure is four — senior Aaron Jordan and grad transfer Adonis De La Rosa among the total.

"We're in that culture that is about transfers and about kids leaving and kids going pro," Underwood said. "It's not the most comforting feeling in the world, but it is our reality today. We've got tremendous relationships with our guys, and to see young guys come back and be excited about Illinois and what we're doing is exciting for me."

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).