Underwood still trying to fill scholarships, looking to future



Illinois men’s head basketball coach Brad Underwood is now faced with Jeremiah Tilmon requesting a release from his National Letter of Intent.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Columnist

May 17 continues to creep up on head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini. That is the last day recruits from the class of 2017 can sign a National Letter of Intent with Division I programs. After the decommitments from Javon Pickett and Jeremiah Tilmon a few weeks back, Illinois still has four scholarships available.

This week, Underwood is hosting a few recruits on official visits. On Monday, 6-foot-7 Francesco Badocchi took a visit, and on Thursday, Mark Smith was on campus.

Badocchi seems to be a recent addition to Illinois’ radar. The Italian native played high school basketball for Bishop Miege in Mission, Kansas. He has exceptional length and leaping ability, which gives him a knack for attacking the rim with authority.

The forward led Bishop Miege with 21 points and 13 rebounds in a state championship victory at the 4A-DI level. Badocchi averaged about 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks per game while shooting about 70 percent from the field this season.

He’s underrated and would be a great fit for Illinois. With Tilmon rumored to be leaning toward Missouri, the Illini could use some height in the class of 2017. Badocchi would provide loads of athleticism for Illinois.

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    According to his profile on 247Sports, Badocchi has three offers from East Tennessee State, Miami of Ohio and Missouri-Kansas City. There’s a strong chance more schools are getting in the mix for Badocchi as teams start noticing him more. It was reported that Badocchi took a visit to Virginia on Wednesday. Memphis may be another school getting in the mix.

    Smith, on the other hand, is a name many Illinois fans should be familiar with by now. The 6-foot-5 guard from Edwardsville, Illinois was the recipient of the 2017 Illinois Mr. Basketball award and has started picking up a lot of national attention.

    In a recent update on its ranking system, 247Sports bumped Smith up to the No. 74 player in the nation from his previous No. 137 rank.

    Unless Smith has the visit of a lifetime, it’s doubtful that he will make a commitment to Illinois on Thursday, as he still has a few more scheduled visits on his calendar. Smith may still take some time to make a decision as he also mulls offers from Michigan State, Kentucky and a recently received visit from Duke.

    Underwood and Illinois may also have an opportunity to receive a commitment from another winner of the Illinois Mr. Basketball award. Charlie Moore won the award in 2016 and is transferring from California after his freshman year to be closer to his family. The 5-foot-11 point guard from Chicago averaged about 29 minutes, 12 points and about four assists per game for the Golden Bears.

    CBS sports reporter Jon Rothstein reported that Moore is now deciding to transfer to either Kansas or Illinois. Wherever he goes, he would have to sit a year because of transfer rules. Moore would be a great addition to the back court for Illinois. He has great vision and strong handles and would be worth the wait.

    Last week, Underwood hired former UIC assistant coach Ron ‘Chin’ Coleman to the coaching staff. Coleman has strong recruiting roots in the Chicago area, which could be used to the Illini’s advantage for Moore.

    Underwood and his staff continue to shine a bit of focus on 2018 beyond Moore.

    Ryan Evan, who contributes for ESPNDecatur 1050, said that Underwood and assistant coach Jamall Walker visited class of 2018 recruit Tim Finke on Wednesday night. Tim is the younger brother of Illinois forward Michael Finke.

    Finke is ranked as the No. 91 player in the nation and the No. 2 player in the state of Illinois, according to 247Sports. His profile lists Vanderbilt, Marquette, Oregon and Notre Dame among 12 other offers, including Illinois.

    A few analysts have predicted Illinois as a front-runner for the 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Champaign. Finke’s speed and strong scoring ability from almost anywhere on the floor would be a good fit into Underwood’s high-powered offense.

    Underwood and his staff’s timeline has been jam-packed, and it remains to be seen if it will begin to pay off in the coming weeks.

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