CHAMPAIGN — Giorgi Bezhanishvili finally has some company on campus.
The Illinois junior forward spent three months essentially in isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic before some of his fellow Illini veterans, like Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams, returned to campus a little more than a week ago.
The Illinois men’s basketball team, though, still isn’t at full strength in Champaign-Urbana. The Illini are still waiting on their three freshmen — among others — but coach Brad Underwood is looking ahead in anticipation for when the whole group is together.
“This is done in waves,” Underwood said. “There’s a lot of coordination done with healthcare officials and state and local governing bodies.
“We have a portion of our veterans back. We’ll continue to bring in other groups at times as they go through their process of re-entry as we call it. Hopefully here in the next 10-14 days then we’ll have everybody on campus.”
The initial voluntary workouts can only be with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher. Mid-July will provide the Illinois coaching staff the opportunity to get on the court with the team for the first time since what turned out to be the team’s final practice on March 12 at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“July 20 is now our first day we can have contact and work out,” Underwood said. “We’re still a little ways away, but that’s OK. We’ve got to do this right and be safe.”
Safety is one of the reasons Illinois sophomore center Kofi Cockburn returned to campus before most of the team did so earlier this month.
“He’s been back on campus maybe six weeks roughly,” Underwood said. “That was done for safety and his concerns being in New York City. He’s back and he’s gone through the re-entry process of testing and going through that.”
Cockburn is back. Sort of. The 7-foot, 290-pound center hasn’t made his final decision regarding his NBA draft early entrant status.
“He still has his name in the draft and has still been entertaining interviews and those things,” Underwood said.