Active offseason sees Illinois men’s basketball welcome seven high-caliber players for 2022–23 season

The+Illinois+Mens+Basketball+team+cheer+and+celebrate+from+the+sidelines+during+the+Big+Ten+Championship+game+against+Iowa+on+March+6.+The+team+has+recruited+seven+4-star+recruits+for+the+upcoming+2022-2023+season.+

Cameron Krasucki

The Illinois Men’s Basketball team cheer and celebrate from the sidelines during the Big Ten Championship game against Iowa on March 6. The team has recruited seven 4-star recruits for the upcoming 2022-2023 season.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

The Class of 2022 is shaping up to be one of the Illini’s most exciting incoming classes in recent years. With each player being a 4-star recruit and three ranking in the top-100, Illinois will be introducing a plethora of fresh talent to State Farm Center this season.

With seven total commits joining the roster of Illinois men’s basketball in 2022-23, the program is looking capable of not only defending its Big Ten title but potentially achieving even more.

The Illini have landed four 4-star recruits so far in Skyy Clark, Ty Rodgers, Jayden Epps and Sencire Harris.

The team has also secured the services of Dain Dainja, Matthew Mayer and Terrence Shannon Jr. through the transfer portal. The work Illinois has done so far has seen it rank in the top 10 nationally, and there is still time this summer for future additions to the roster.

6-foot-3-inch guard Skyy Clark, a native of Montverde, Fla. joins the Illini as the third highest-ranked recruit to ever join the program, per data from 247Sports. While originally planning on going to Kentucky, Clark decommitted and ended up choosing Illinois. Clark is expected to take the starting point guard role and is exactly what the Illini needed following the departures of guards Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier, Alfonso Plummer and Da’Monte Williams. Currently rated as a 4-star recruit, Clark ranks No. 31 overall nationally.

“(Clark’s) talents speak for themselves,” Underwood said during a press conference following Clark’s signing. “Those are exciting to talk about. He’s a young guy that loves the game and loves to work. He’s very committed and very dedicated to becoming a great player.”

Adding to Underwood’s freshman contingent for the new season is Ty Rodgers. Rodgers joins the Illini as a 6-foot-6-inch forward from Harvey, Ill. Rodgers, the No. 1 ranked player in the state of Illinois, recently competed in the FIBA Americas tournament as a part of the USA Men’s U18 National Team. Rodgers helped Team USA bring home the gold medal, started in five out of the team’s six games and averaged 5.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists over the course of the tournament. The 4-star recruit currently ranks No. 49 nationally and will be a welcome addition to Illinois.

“Ty joining our family is something that we’re excited about,” Underwood said back in November. “He’s been a priority for us for some time, a young guy that we feel fits everything that we’re about, from our culture to our style of play.”

Like Rodgers, both Jayden Epps and Sencire Harris also committed to the Illini back in November. Epps comes in as a 6-foot-2-inch guard from Charlotte, N.C. Harris comes in as a 6-foot-3-inch guard from Akron, Ohio. Epps, the No. 1 ranked player in the state of North Carolina, will help in filling the spots of the departing guards with his skillset and ability as a combo-guard. Harris, the No. 2 ranked player in the state of Ohio, will be important in filling specifically the shooting guard role. Nationally, Epps and Harris rank No. 68 and No. 105, respectively. With Underwood describing Epps as having a “scorer’s mentality” and Harris as being a player with “a ceiling that’s through the roof,” there is little doubt as to the importance both guards will bring to the Illini in 2022–23.

“It’s a wonderful day,” Underwood had said during the early signing period, “To add two young men to our program who we feel can impact us immediately.”

Additionally, Illinois has made some noise in the transfer portal with major additions.

Redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja will play his first minutes for the Illini this coming season after transferring from Baylor in December. Dainja will be a force to reckon with in the paint, and with his 6-foot-9-inch, 270-pound build he’ll be instrumental in filling the physical gap left by All-American center Kofi Cockburn, who declared for the 2022 NBA Draft.

“We’ve been excited about Dain and what he’s done,” said Underwood in April. “Although he has not played a game yet, I’ll preface that, he’s extremely talented, he’s a tremendous ball handler and passer.”

Dainja has experience playing with Illinois’ most recent transfer portal pickup in forward Matthew Mayer, who also joins from Baylor. Mayer decided to use his fifth year of eligibility to return to college basketball, and at 6-feet-9-inches, he’ll not only bring size to the Illini but also valuable experience. Mayer averaged 9.8 points and five rebounds last season as a senior, and as a junior, he played a significant role in helping Baylor win the national title. With Illinois still trying to make it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the addition of Mayer will only improve the program’s chances in 2022–23.

Illinois will also be bringing in senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. from Texas Tech. Coming in at 6-foot-6-inches, Shannon will provide the Illini with more of a height advantage at the guard position than Frazier, Plummer, Williams or Curbelo, none of whom stood taller than 6-foot-3-inches. Shannon averaged 11.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists during his three years at Texas Tech and will, like Mayer, add to the experience on the roster. Additionally, being a Chicago native, Shannon was recruited by the Illini coming out of high school before ultimately choosing the Red Raiders. Underwood will undoubtedly be excited to see Shannon return home for his senior season.

“He’s a very, very versatile player,” Underwood said of Shannon last month via a press release. “He fits everything that we do. I’m excited about his athleticism, we’re talking about one of the elite athletes in America, we’re talking about a guy who’s very versatile. He’s a much, much better shooter in college than he was in high school.”

While the Illini fanbase is understandably ecstatic to be seeing these seven players donning the uniform in 2022-23, the excitement doesn’t end there. There is still time for Illinois to add more names to the team during the summer.

Additionally, with sophomore guards RJ Melendez, Luke Goode and junior forward Coleman Hawkins all returning, Illinois appears set to continue competing at the high level that it has been for the past few seasons. Each of the three returning players are projected to have breakout years in 2022–23 and combined with the incoming talent, Underwood will be getting another championship-caliber roster at his disposal.

 

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