CHAMPAIGN — Illinois basketball had its first official day of individual workouts Monday. It was pretty much business as usual given the Illini had been on the court at Ubben Basketball Complex on their own time since the school year started late last month.
Illinois coach Brad Underwood also had a mostly healthy group to work with as the workouts began. The only player that wasn’t active was Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, but the freshman forward still got involved as a passer Monday morning while the rest of the Illini bigs ran drills.
Bosmans-Verdonk remains mostly sidelined with a leg injury suffered this summer that kept him off the court during Illinois’ four games in Italy.
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“Everything’s improving, and it’s healing nicely,” Underwood said. “We’re in a time of year where we can be pretty conservative, yet he’s a freshman and he’s chomping at the bit to be out here. We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize him. We want him to come back 100 percent and not anything short of that, and hopefully we don’t have to deal with that anymore.”
Bosmans-Verdonk, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward out of Lommel, Belgium, has spent the majority of his time since arriving at Illinois with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher. A quick glance at his latest Instagram post and, yep, that time has been well spent.
Bosmans-Verdonk’s skill set — athletic power forward that can stretch the floor — fits exactly what Illinois wanted in that position heading into the 2019-20 season. He also certainly looks the part. The next step is getting medically cleared and fully healthy back on the court.
“He’ll keep getting his follow-ups every couple weeks, and we’ll know more from there,” Underwood said. “In the meantime, he’s doing a lot of stuff in the pool. He’s following his therapy and progressing and doing everything that our trainers and our doctors want him to do.”
Illinois will continue its small group individual workouts the rest of this week before branching out into full team workouts in the next week. That’s when official practices could start, but Underwood is sticking with his plan to start practices the first week of October instead. The only new Illini who didn’t go through workouts this summer are incoming freshman forward Jermaine Hamlin, along with transfers Austin Hutcherson (Wesleyan) and Jacob Grandison (Holy Cross). Hutcherson committed to Illinois last month right before the Illini left for Italy, while Hamlin, a Lincoln graduate, and Grandison committed after the team returned from its Italy trip.
“We’ve got 42 days to have 30 practices, according to the NCAA rule, from our first game,” Underwood said. “We’ll back those up a little bit. We had 10 days in August that very few other people had, so we’re in a good place. We’ll compact those practices a little bit with maybe not as many days off.
“I love where we’re at. We’re ahead of where we’ve been, obviously, the last two years. I think right now it’s about letting Fletch have his time keeping them fresh, keeping them strong, getting in the shape. Having Jermaine adjust. Have Austin and Jacob get acclimated as well.”
Underwood seemed energized late Monday morning after Illinois’ workout concluded. He used some other “e” words, too, in describing his thoughts with the season opener on Nov. 5 against Nicholls State fast approaching.
“Excited, encouraged,” he said. “It’s good to see everybody out here. It’s the start of really our march toward what we hope is a long run in the month of March. We’re excited and a lot of teaching is going on, and that’s always encouraging.”