In the last month since the early exit from the NCAA tournament. There have been the winds of change going through The Ubben basketball complex at the University of Illinois and the office of head coach Brad Underwood. Some of what happened were predicted, and some was a surprise. 2 players entered the Transfer Portal. 4 players declared for the NBA draft, 2 players transferred to Illinois and 2 Seniors return for a fifth season, and two coaches leave for the same school and a former Illini becomes an assistant. Here is a look at how it all went down.
Freshman Guard Adam Miller announced he would enter the NCAA transfer portal. Miller started all 31 games for Illinois. He averaged 8.3 points and 2.8 rebounds. He shot 39.1% from the field and 34% beyond the arc. He was being looked at as one of the 21-22 season scoring options. His decision to enter the portal was somewhat of a surprise. He would have had the inside track to keep his spot on the wing. The expected departures of Dosunmu, Williams, and Frazier leaves the Illini backcourt with question marks. He might have been influenced by the expected Return of Austin Hutcherson, a 6-6 in Junior transfer from 2019. Also, the signing of one of the top high school shooting forwards from Indiana, Luke Goode, out of Fort Wayne, may have played a factor. Miller would eventually pick LSU.
What everyone was predicting would happen did as Junior Guard Ayo Dosunmu declared for the NBA draft. Ayo has been projected anywhere from an 18th to a 27th in the first round. He was nominated for almost every award offered except maybe the most outstanding hot dog vendor. (he probably would have won that one too). He was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten, a first-team consensus All-American, Sporting News/Sports Illustrated/USA TODAY and CBS Sports first-team All American, USA TODAY National Player of the Year, Bob Cousy Award. In short, he was Mister everything for Illinois.
He was also the first player in 11 years to average over 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists and joined Magic Johnson as the only two Big ten players to have multiple triple-doubles in the same season. A player like that is hard to replace.
Junior F/C Georgi Bezhanishvili declared for the NBA draft. As Georgi was being looked at as the next man up to Replace Kofi Cockburn, this was unexpected, who most expected would enter the draft. Georgi was a precious asset for Illinois as the backup to Kofi. Bezhanishvili presented a different look and different challenge for defenders. And when used together with Cockburn, they present match-up problems for other teams. Bezhanishvili's stats don't really project to the NBA (5.3 Points and 2.8 Rebounds per game). He is predicted to go un-drafted. So this move seems like a way to be noticed by scouts to play in Europe and closer to his family, as he is from Austria-Georgia.
Senior Guard Trent Frazier declares for the NBA draft. Not entirely unexpected, but he did have a Covid-19 Year option. He ranks 19th on the school's scoring list. He led the Illini in three-pointers with 55, steals with 39. He shot 38.9% from the floor and 35.8% from the arc. Later on April 17, he would pull his name from the Draft and announce he would be returning for the 5th season. This is welcome news to Underwood, who needs experience at the guard position. It gives the younger guards coming in someone to watch and learn from and a steady performer.
Ramses Melendez via 247Sports Brandin Podziemski via Milwaukee- Omar Payne via David Bowie -
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*The U of I announced the signing of 2 Four-Star recruits. First was 6-7 Forward, Ramses "RJ" Melendez from Central Pointe Christian Academy (CPCA) in Kissimmee, Florida. Melendez is originally from Arecibo, Puerto Rico. He was named Player of the Year in the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association (SIAA). He was first-team All-SIAA as a senior, averaging 24.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.2 steals, and 2.3 blocks. He could seriously challenge for playing time at the wing as a Freshman.
*The other signee is 6-5 Guard Brandin Podziemski from Muskego, Wisconsin. He attended St. John's Northwestern Academies (SJNA) in Delafield, Wisconsin. He was voted Wisconsin's 2021 Mr. Basketball by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. And why not when you look at the insane numbers. Podziemski averaged 35.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 4.0 steals as a Senior. He shot 60.4% from the field, 81.6% from the foul line, and 43.4% from the 3-point range, leading the state with 108 made threes. He is predicted to be an impact player at Illinois.
*The U of I also announced that Junior Omar Payne, a 6-10 230 pound center from the University of Florida, signed a Big Ten tender to transfer to the University of Illinois. Payne sports a 7' 5.5'' wingspan. As a 2019 recruit, Payne was ranked 45th by 247Sports. In Gainesville, Payne averaged 3.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. Averaging 15.4 minutes per game. He could see an expanded role at Illinois with or without Kofi Cockburn. If Cockburn does not return, Payne could be the man in the middle. If Cockburn does return then, he could slide into the Georgi Bezhanishvili role.
These three, along with early signee Luke Goode, a 6-7 200 pound Shooting Forward, who singed in November 2020, make for a nice incoming group of players.
Luke Goode via Mike Pegram
Kofi Cockburn declares for the NBA Draft. This was another move that many expected to happen. The 7-0, 285 pound, Sophomore Center from Kingston, Jamaica, Was a Double-Double machine for Illinois. He had 16 Double-Doubles. He earned Second Team All-American honors from NCAA, USA TODAY, CBS, The Sporting News, NABC, and USBWA. He was also First Team All-Big Ten. He led the Big Ten in rebounding avg at 9.5 RPG. He was also a rim-rattler. He led the nation with 74 dunks. Kofi may not go through with the draft as he is not projected to be drafted or at the very tail end of the draft (57th pick or later). While he is an inside force, he does lack a short to a mid-range jumper that the NBA looks for. It would be advantageous for him to take another year and add to his game.
The Illini announced that 5th year Utah Senior Alfonzo Plummer will transfer to Illinois to play f=in the 2021 season. Plummer is a 6-1, 180 Shooting Guard. He spent his 1st two years at Arizona Western College, then transferring to Utah. Plummer is a 39% shooter from outside the arc. In two years, he averages 11 points per game. He could fit well into the Illinois multi-guard rotation. He is also regarded as a solid defender and ball handler.
Sophomore Jermaine Hamlin entered the Transfer Portal. The 6-10 235 pound Center played sparingly for Illinois. (only 8 games in 2020-21). With Georgi and Kofi gone, he would have had his chance to Compete with Colman Hawkins and New Comer Omar Payne for the post position. So his transfer is a mild shock, however. At the same time, the loss of a potential post player is cause for concern, with the 3 guard offense of Illinois and that they have guys like 7-0, Brandon Lieb, developing and with the addition of Payne, losing Hamlin does not hurt as much as say Bezhanishvili or Cockburn does. But it does give underwood cause for concern.
Senior guard Da'Monte Williams announced he would be coming back for the 5th year, giving Illinois another weapon for the backcourt, which suffered a blow 3 weeks earlier with Dosunmu and Miller leaving. Even though he eventually lost his starting job midway through the season, Williams led the NCAA in 3 points shooting with 54.7% (35-64). He also shot 51.5% from the floor overall. He is a staunch defender and can Rebound. He averaged 5.3 RPG in 2020-21. He was also seen as a stabilizing presence for the younger guards on the roster. Again welcome news to Underwood, who count on Da'Monte's leadership.
What had been a rumor for at least 2 or three weeks became fact on Thursday. John Calipari and the University of Kentucky announced they had hired Illinois top assistant/Recruiter Orlando Antigua and Assistant Coach Ronald "Chin" Coleman. It is somewhat of an uncommon move but left a big hole to fill for Underwood and the U of I.
*Antigua - After playing in college, he was an assistant at Mt. Lebanon HS before moving to his Alma matter Pitt from 2006-2008. He was on Calipari's staff at Memphis in 2008 and 2009 and followed him to Kentucky, leaving in 2014. he was the University of South Florida Head Coach from 2014-2017(from 2013-2015, he was also head coach of the Dominican Republic National Team.) He joined Underwood at Illinois in 2017. Widely known as one of the top international recruiters in the college game today. He was directly responsible for Illinois getting Andres Feliz, Kofi Cockburn, and Andre Curbello. Antigua worked with the post players at Illinois.
* Ronald "Chin" Coleman - Started as an Assistant Coach at Whitney Young High School, in Chicago, from 2007-2011. He followed that up with Assistant Coaching gigs at Colorado State 2011-2012, Bradley 2012-2015, UIC 2015-2017. Then coming to Illinois in 2017. Coleman is also considered a top recruiter, as wells as an up-and-coming coach. He is the one who brought Guys like Coleman Hawkins, Ayo Dosunmu, Adam Miller, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, and 2021 signee Brandin Podziemski to Illinois. He also worked with the Guards at Illinois.
New Coach added
* Simultaneously, as two coaches departed, the Illini announced that former player and current Virginia Tech Assistant Coach Chester Frazier would be joining Brad Underwood's staff as an Assistant Coach. Frazier played in Germany in 2010. Then was a Graduate Assistant at Illinois in 2011 before returning to Germany in 2012. He then spent seven years as an assistant to Bruce Webber at Kansas State 2013-2019 before leaving for The Assistant job at Virginia Tech under coach Mike Young. Chester's passion and love of the U of I are evident and should go a long way in getting recruits to Illinois and KEEPING them there. He will be working with the Guards at Illinois as well as recruiting the state.
There has been a lot of movement the last month, and more is on the way as they still need to replace an assistant Coach, and there are rumors that Assistant Coach Stephen Gentry is being considered for the same job at Gonzaga. Gonzaga also has on its staff Former 2005 Illini Roger Powell. Powell has been mentioned and some others as potential targets. Other names include Chris Lowery, Assistant at Kansas State. Daniyal Robinson Assistant Coach at Iowa State. Tom Ostrom Assistant at Indiana. Steve Prohm, Former Head coach at Iowa State. It is fair to say that while the winds of change have shown little sign of slowing down.
Thanks for reading.