Illini add Antigua to staff, starting to look at Kansas recruit


Ryan Fang

New Fighting Illini basketball coach Brad Underwood speaks at the Statefarm Center on Monday, Mar 20 2017.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Columnist

Illinois basketball has had itself a hectic couple of weeks.

A few days ago, the Illini granted release requests for class of 2017 recruits Javon Pickett and Jeremiah Tilmon. There weren’t many indicators that Pickett and Tilmon were planning on requesting their releases until the two posted on social media days apart.

The news surrounding Tilmon and Pickett somewhat overshadowed Brad Underwood’s major addition to the Illini’s staff for next season. On April 5, Illinois announced the hiring of former South Florida head coach Orlando Antigua. Before landing the job at South Florida, Antigua served as an assistant coach to John Calipari for six years at Memphis and Kentucky.

This was a tremendous hire by Underwood. Antigua has playing experience at Pittsburgh from 1991-1995 and will focus on working with the Illini’s big men.

Antigua has built quite a resume, and Illinois can surely benefit from this. He has worked with frontcourt players who are now playing on NBA rosters. During his time at Kentucky, Antigua was an assistant coach for rosters that were compiled of DeMarcus Cousins, Enes Kanter and Anthony Davis. This can be a very attractive highlight to point out to forward and center recruits Illinois pursues in the future.

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With Antigua added to his staff, Underwood and Co. now have a chance to get back into the recruiting scheme. Pickett and Tilmon free up two scholarships to create four remaining spots for next year’s roster.

Both Pickett and Tilmon said that Illinois is going to remain an option for them. It would be great for the Illini to retain both those recruits, but it’s important to expand recruiting efforts in case they commit to a new school.

There is one recruit the Illini are familiar with who is back on their radar.

Carlton Bragg is leaving Kansas after finishing his sophomore year. The 6-foot-10 forward from Cleveland averaged about five points and four rebounds in 14 minutes per game this past season.

Three years ago, Bragg was a five-star recruit and narrowed his final three schools to Kansas, Kentucky and Illinois. With Bragg’s transfer from Kansas, there is potential Illinois could be a destination.

Illini Inquirer reported that Antigua and Jamall Walker have already contacted Bragg. Adding Bragg to the Illini would be a great use of one of the four scholarships. He’s proven his skill set at Kansas and is probably tired of being underutilized. Illinois can definitely benefit from Bragg’s presence both offensively and defensively.

A McDonald’s All-American in 2015, Bragg has a knack for rebounding and has great athleticism. He plays well off of pick-and-rolls and knows when to roll or pop after setting the screen.

After serving as head coach for Oklahoma State this past season, Underwood coached against Bragg and Kansas twice. Bragg scored one point in the first match against Underwood and 11 in the second, as the Jayhawks beat the Cowboys twice.

With the final signing date set for May 17, Underwood and his staff need to act quickly and possibly start looking for recruits beyond Pickett, Tilmon and Bragg.

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Matt is a Junior in Business.