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Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball: Brad Underwood’s Undersized Underdogs? // B1G 2017

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How has the situation changed for the new Fighting Illini coach?

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Championship-Iowa State vs Oklahoma State Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

When we last checked in on Illinois Fighting Illini men’s basketball, Brad Underwood had just been hired to replace John Groce. Illini fans were happy. Oklahoma State fans were not. Missouri fans thought they won the lottery with Cuonzo Martin.

So what’s changed since then?

Underwood has filled out his staff, starting by retaining Jamall Walker with a juicy salary bump. Walker’s principal role was “guy who got Jeremiah Tilmon on board,” and if the legends are true, “guy who drives golf carts with reckless abandon on campus.” This seemed like a great idea until Tilmon asked to be released from his letter of intent and began a period of radio silence, emerging yesterday to “sign with” Missouri. I use the quotes because he only signed a financial aid agreement as opposed to a National Letter of Intent, but it seems safe to say that if he qualifies he will join Michael Porter, Jr. in Cuonzo Martin’s latest attempt to assemble the most talented team the NIT has ever seen.

Underwood brought on former John Calipari assistant Orlando Antigua as his next assistant. Antigua was previously the head coach at South Florida, and also served as an assistant to Calipari at Memphis and Kentucky. He was also a Pittsburgh assistant after playing for Pittsburgh in his college days. In his high school career, he once missed two weeks of game time due to being SHOT IN THE HEAD. His experience as a recruiter solidifies the street cred of Underwood’s staff, as does his final assistant, former Mac Irvin Fire (AAU) head coach Ron Coleman. A former assistant under Tim Miles, Coleman spent most of his career near Chicago, last being an assistant at UIC after three years at Bradley.

So what has this meant for recruiting? Essentially, the 2017 class has been full of drama. At one point, St. Louis area guard Jordan Goodwin was seen as a lock for Illinois and potentially a guy who would bring Tilmon with him. He went silent, during which time Illinois added Javon Pickett and Tilmon. Goodwin later emerged and signed with SLU. Meanwhile, Illinois received a commitment from guard Trent Frazier, and then after missing the NCAA tournament fired John Groce. After Underwood’s hire, Pickett and Tilmon both asked for their release. Underwood proceeded to get guard Mark Smith, Mr. Basketball 2017 for the state of Illinois to sign despite Michigan State making a big run at this late bloomer. So, we lost a major center, but replaced him with Mr. Basketball.

This now creates a situation where our roster is full of guards and small forwards, with only power forwards Leron Black and Michael Finke able to even imitate a center. With guard DJ Williams transferring, Underwood now has four open scholarships for the 2017 class. Illinois has hosted Georgetown big man Akoy Agau and Wright State guard Mark Alstork, but there’s some serious work to be done here to get some size and depth on this team as soon as possible.

If nothing changes, the roster will be as follows:

1- Te’jon Lucas, Mark Smith, Trent Frazier
2- Jalen Coleman-Lands, Aaron Jordan, DaMonte Williams
3 - Kipper Nichols
4 - Leron Black, Cameron Liss (Walk-On)
5 - Michael Finke

Yikes.

Time to see what this staff is made of.