Several hundred Illinois fans showed up at State Farm Center on Saturday morning for Illinois’ open practice. So did beat writer Scott Richey. Here’s what he saw:
1. Austin Hutcherson can fly. It’s one thing to hear Illinois coach Brad Underwood talk about Hutcherson’s 41-inch vertical or watch the 6-foot-6 guard dunk in highlight clips. Seeing it in person? A much different experience. The biggest pop he got from the crowd was actually a miss. But taking off from outside the lane and nearly dunking on 6-10 Omar Payne was wild.
2. The consensus heading into the 2021-22 season is that this Illinois team will be rather proficient from behind the three-point line. Players should make a high percentage of their three-pointers in practice. And the Illini did on Saturday morning. Guards Alfonso Plummer, Luke Goode, Trent Frazier and Hutcherson looked automatic during certain stretches.
3. Kofi Cockburn abusing the rims at State Farm Center wasn’t a surprise. But the 7-foot junior center did put on a bit of a show for the Illini fans. Was it necessary to do a 180-degree pump jam during a scrimmage portion of practice? Probably not. But it did get the fans excited. Cockburn had a little something extra for other dunks, too.
4. Cockburn and Payne will together this season. That doesn’t mean the Underwood will shy away from some of the small-ball lineups he’s played in the last four years, though. That was evident when 6-3 Da’Monte Williams and 6-6 Jacob Grandison spent at least part of Saturday’s practice working with the big men.
5. Andre Curbelo still makes plays that his teammates might not. Especially when it comes to getting to the rim at will. The way the 6-1 guard can weave his way through the lane and finish in traffic is unique. He’s always in control, bides his time for even the slightest opening and then, most importantly, finishes at the rim.
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).