Illini experience plenty of change in new season


The Daily Illini File Photo

Trent Frazier takes a breath during Illinois’ 93-86 loss to No. 6 Purdue on Feb. 22.

By Brian Binz, Staff Writer

It was an overcast Friday, not unlike other October Fridays in Champaign, but inside the Ubben practice facility, it wasn’t just another Friday.

Head coach Brad Underwood addressed the media for about half an hour before taking pictures with his team, marking the beginning of a new season for Illinois basketball.

The Illini look to bounce back from a season where they went 14-18 and 4-14 in the Big Ten, including a 0-9 start to Big Ten play.

New faces

Few teams in the Big Ten have to face the roster turnover that the Illini have.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    After losing six players from the 2017 team, Underwood added eight new players to the roster — six of them being part of Underwood’s first real freshman class.

    Out of the six players  who departed, five started at some point in the season, and Michael Finke and Leron Black took up the large bulk of frontcourt minutes in 2017.

    The Illini will look to replace that with a mix of freshmen like Samba Kane and Giorgi Bezhanishvili, as well as veterans like graduate transfer Adonis De La Rosa and junior Kipper Nichols.

    Illinois also bolstered its backcourt with new arrivals like five-star PG Ayo Dosunmu, four-star wing Tevian Jones and a group of three-star guys like JUCO transfer Andres Feliz and freshman Alan Griffin.

    While the inexperience may be a hurdle for the team to overcome, Underwood said the team has a “youthful exuberance” because of the new guys.

    “This is a group with tremendous personality,” Underwood said. “They have a way about them that is magnetic.”

    Iron sharpens iron

    While Underwood has yet to announce a starting five for the beginning of the year, he did mention that Dosunmu and lead returning scorer Trent Frazier have been matched up in practice.

    Frazier had a breakout freshman year that saw him transform from a relatively unheralded arrival on campus to becoming the face of the team by Big Ten play, garnering an All-Big Ten freshman nod.

    “We have very few non-competitive moments in practice,” Underwood said. “We’ve had some great battles every single day between Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu, and that’s fun to watch.”

    Frazier said it’s been a learning experience for him.

    “We learn a lot from each other,” Frazier said. “The thing that stands out to me is how well he defends; his length is challenging for me, we are always getting after it.”

    Tough start

    The Illini begin nonconference play with Evansville on Nov. 8, kicking off a schedule that Underwood feels is among the best “in the history of the program.”

    The Illini will face Georgetown, UNLV, Notre Dame and Mizzou in the nonconference season along with a trip to Maui where they will face Gonzaga and other top programs from around the country.

    “To have Georgetown come in here, to have UNLV come in here, Maui is an elite event, so I’m excited about that,” Underwood said.

    Underwood’s players are excited about the challenge as well.

    “I’m very excited; I’m ready for anyone coming into our gym,” Frazier said. “These freshman are unbelievable in the things they can do to help us win.”

    Above the rim

    After finishing last year with the fewest dunks in the Big Ten, Underwood said the new group will add athleticism to the team.

    Underwood emphasized DaMonte Williams, who is coming off his first healthy offseason in college.

    “Damonte is a guy that likes to walk around with his shirt off,” Underwood said. “There’s tremendous confidence in that he knows he’s healthy. He’s explosive again.”

    Underwood said Williams dunked over fellow high-flyer Tevian Jones, and it caught his eye.

    Jones is no stranger to dunks either, and said he thinks Underwood’s offense will lead to a few of them.

    “A lot of (dunks) are coming this year,” Jones said. “This offense is really making scoring for the wings a lot easier.”


    [email protected]