Shannon shoulders leadership duties in senior season

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Sidney Malone

Senior guard Terrance Shannon Jr. leaps for a dunk against Wisconsin on Jan. 7. The Illini gets back on foot after their defeat from Northwestern with the Illini’s second win on Tuesday against Nebraska.

By James Kim, Assistant Sports Editor

The Illini faced a tall task heading into the 2022–23 season.

After losing 10 total players, including all five of its regular starters from last season, there remained a big question mark as to where Illinois was going to find its points this year.

As it turned out, the answer was found with the addition of senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr.

Before deciding to spend his final collegiate year with Illinois, Shannon had spent the last three years at Texas Tech. During his time as a Red Raider, Shannon averaged 11 points and 3.6 rebounds. He also helped Texas Tech make it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament in 2021–22, an achievement that caught the eye of an Illinois program that has struggled to make it past the second round in the last two years.

“TJ is a winner who will bring a wealth of experience to our roster,” head coach Brad Underwood said after Shannon’s commitment. “And he is an accomplished student who fits the tremendous academic profile we have here at the University of Illinois.”

As the Illini prepared to showcase a younger, new-look roster, Shannon entered the program and immediately shouldered a mountain of attention from across the Big Ten. He had been on Illinois’ radar long before this year as a native of Chicago, and was recruited by Underwood back in high school but ultimately chose Texas Tech. For his final year, it was time for Shannon to come home.

“It’s special, playing for my home state,” Shannon said heading into the season. “I’m back home, and everybody that I went to high school with can come watch me play now — it’s special. Even when I committed to Texas Tech, all the Illinois fans congratulated me and wished me luck, so I felt like we already had a connection even before I committed here.”

With Illini fans ecstatic to see Shannon added to the ranks, the former Red Raider came into 2022–23 with high expectations. The Chicago native was named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team and was set to take on a leadership role on the team. Despite the pressure of coming into the season as one of the highest-rated transfer players in the country, Shannon quickly got to work.

The guard excited fans after opening his Illini scoring account with 24 points against Eastern Illinois but wasn’t finished there. On Nov. 14, Shannon dropped a career-high 30 points against Monmouth and four days later shocked the nation with an All-American level 29-point performance against No. 8 UCLA. The Illini’s 79-70 upset over the Bruins also saw Shannon snag 10 rebounds and score eight three-pointers, the latter of which tied the program’s single-game record.

On Dec. 6, Shannon’s clutch abilities were on full display during Illinois’ upset over No. 2 Texas. Despite scoring a mere four points during regulation, the senior guard came alive during overtime and nearly took on the Longhorns on his own. He scored 12 of the Illini’s 17 total points in the third period and clinched the team’s 85-78 victory late in the contest.

So far this season, Shannon has averaged 17.6 points and 5.7 rebounds in 18 games played. The 6-foot-6-inch guard brings an aggressive playing style on offense and specializes in getting to the rim. In addition to drawing fouls consistently, Shannon’s sharp reading of the game and explosive speed frequently leads to steals and points off turnovers. Illinois hasn’t seen a player as quick in transition since Ayo Dosumnu, who currently plays for the Chicago Bulls.

“They’re similar,” Underwood said back in November. “I think they’re every bit as fast, and Ayo was just so elite. I think that Terrence has a chance to accomplish everything that Ayo did in terms of nationally being one of the top players in transition. Ayo probably doesn’t pull up and shoot it as well as Terrence does in transition, but we’re also talking about a guy who’s starting for the Bulls. He’s pretty good, but Terrence is definitely right there.”

Lately, the Illini are on a hot streak in the Big Ten and have only lost one of their last five games. Shannon has averaged over 20 points across the last four games and continues to improve his draft stock as he enters the final stretch of his college career.

Halfway through the season, Shannon is projected to be drafted in the 2023 NBA Draft and with the way he’s played thus far, it’s not hard to see why. The size, talent and overall explosiveness the guard has showcased has been an instrumental part of Illinois’ success. Shannon’s play has also earned him a spot on the 2022–23 Oscar Robertson Trophy midseason watch list.

However, the big question regarding Shannon is how far he’ll be able to lead Illinois during this year’s edition of the NCAA tournament. Recent years have seen the Illini win the Big Ten title as well as the Big Ten tournament title, but the one competition the program hasn’t truly performed well at yet recently is the biggest one that college basketball has to offer.

Just like in years past, March is going to be a big test for Illinois’ younger squad. However, with the arrival of experienced veterans Shannon and fifth-year Matthew Mayer, the Illini have a chance to do something special at the 2023 edition of the NCAA tournament.

“Just mentally I feel like I can help our younger guys,” Shannon said. “They won the Big Ten (last year), they did something. I never won my conference before. But just being there in March, we have to keep our composure and if we’re winning, we have to keep our foot on the gas. We’ve always got to be alert and ready.”

 

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