Underwood’s team of ‘everyday guys’ prepare for the season

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Austin Yattoni

Illinois head basketball coach Brad Underwood answers questions from the media during the media day press conference at the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics building on Wednesday, October 11.

By Will Gerard, Staff writer

Head coach Brad Underwood started his press conference by addressing the ongoing widespread FBI investigation of the NCAA, saying he knows “nothing more than what you have read,” but quickly transitioned to his outlook for his young team before taking questions from the press.

Underwood mentioned that the coaching staff often talks about establishing a team culture of doing the little things right, and reinforces this belief by using the slogan “everyday guys.” The slogan is “all over the locker room,” according to Underwood.

“(Through nine practices) we’ve gotten better every day, so we’re following that script very well, and that’s a big part of continued growth,” Underwood said.

High praise for Leron Black

Underwood praised redshirt junior Black’s impact in practice following an elbow surgery, calling the junior an “All-Big Ten caliber player.”

“It’s a blessing that he has that much confidence in me,” Black said. “I’m just going to try to be the most I can for this team, and help this team win.”

Unlike his freshman year, when he was still adjusting to college basketball, Black believes that much of the foul trouble he had last year was due to his elbow injury.

“When I got injured that second year, I was fouling because I was in pain, really,” Black said. “I’m trying to help the freshmen make sure they know that a lot of the stuff they did in high school is going to be called a foul.”

Underwood expects Black to average double digits in rebounds. Black said that during the offseason he primarily worked on ball-handling and passing to prepare for Underwood’s four-out, one-in offensive system.

“He knows his role is going to be at the top of everyone else’s scouting report,” Underwood said.

Black was a team leader in rebounds last season, averaging 6.3 rebounds per game, which was good for 14th in the Big Ten. In 14 games Black led the Illini in rebounds, and he also brought down double-digit rebounds five times.

“I’m really excited to get to playing,” Black said. “We’ve had some good seasons, but I’m just excited to see how much better we can be this season.”

Te’jon Lucas under concussion protocol

Lucas suffered a concussion due to a collision with Mark Smith in the team’s second practice.

“Today was the first day I had no (concussion) symptoms,” Lucas said. “I was able to take the concussion test, so hopefully I’ll be on the court real soon.”

Over the course of Wednesday’s practice, Lucas spent most of his time dribbling on the sideline.

“We need Te’jon to be our guy, and our quarterback to help lead us,” Underwood said. “He has game experience, (but) on the other hand, it has given us the opportunity to give a ton of reps to Mark Smith and Mark Alstork at the point guard position.”

Underwood emphasized that the team plays position-less basketball, though the sophomore brings experience to the team’s backcourt, particularly on defense.

Lucas was fourth in the Big Ten in steals during conference play last season, averaging 1.5 steals per game.

Freshman Da’monte Williams is another guard that is not quite at full health. He lost eight weeks of summer workouts due to a knee injury in high school. He didn’t play any basketball during the spring.

Underwood praised the Manual High School graduate’s defensive ability, calling him a “pleasant surprise,” and one player that has shown in practice the potential to become an “elite defender.”

Williams was excited to initially learn about Underwood’s defensive principles, and how the style of play compares to what he played in high school.

“I’ve been playing that kind of (aggressive) defense for so long, so it really just comes easy to me,” Williams said.

During his press conference, Underwood compared Williams’ style of play to that of his father, Frank Williams, who played for Illinois from 1999-2002, in terms of possessing a similar offensive skillset.

Yet, Underwood believes Da’monte has a much more explosive jump off the floor.

“Last time we played my seventh-grade year, we had played in two games, where he had won one and I had won one,” Williams said about his father. “After that, I think he got the picture that I wasn’t going to let him win anymore.”

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