Illinois men’s basketball alums return to hang banner, collect rings with Underwood

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Sydney Laput

Former Illinois men’s basketball guard Trent Frazier receives his 2022 Big Ten Championship ring from Illinois head coach Brad Underwood during the ring and banner ceremony on Friday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Somehow, a 38-point win was the second best thing to happen to Illinois head coach Brad Underwood on Friday night. His team’s 86-48 decimation of the Kansas City Roos took an emotional backseat for the main event, which happened just minutes before tipoff.

Over the course of 12 minutes, Underwood and pieces from his 2021–22 Big Ten co-champion roster were celebrated in front of a stuffed State Farm Center. After celebrating a Big Ten tournament win in 2021, Underwood got the opportunity to celebrate a regular season success with some of the guys he had worked with in his entire Illinois career.

“It’s just a pretty damn cool evening,” Underwood said. “For those guys to be here, and for that to be their priority, it’s why I do it.”

“Those guys” that Underwood is referring to includes two-time All-American Kofi Cockburn, who booked a later flight to his new professional team in Japan in order to witness the ceremony, Alfonso Plummer, who played a game in Mexico City just 24 hours before, Trent Frazier, who flew 13 hours from Serbia to attend and Da’Monte Williams, who flew in from Belgium before the event.

While returners from that regular season chip win like sophomore guard Luke Goode, sophomore guard RJ Melendez, redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja, junior forward Coleman Hawkins, junior forward Connor Serven and junior center Brandon Lieb were also honored, it was the ones who came all that way that made it more special. Due to the climate within college sports now due to the transfer portal and NIL opportunities, being a home for the ones that came back was a unique opportunity for Underwood.

“The arena was full, because (the fans) came back to see them, and that’s what makes Illinois special,” Underwood said. “Not everybody gets a place you can call home anymore, and those guys do.”

During the banner and ring ceremony, each member of the staff was honored, from the graduate assistants to the members of the team themselves. However, each one was celebrated individually. Even Cockburn’s portion of the ceremony was short despite the enormous roar from the crowd when his name was called.

To cap off the ceremony, Frazier’s portion was a bit different. Immediately following Cockburn’s name was a three-minute video that recapped Frazier’s time with Illinois men’s basketball. The video had moments from his first matches, including some that ended in dismal defeats, all the way to his final appearance at State Farm Center, where he collected the ball as the clock expired to crown Illinois champions of the Big Ten.

It was an emotionally captivating moment, and one that Underwood cosigned for his five year player. The video titled “Forever 1” honored the five years of dedication and work Frazier put into the program. This was his moment to be celebrated for his role in the quick turnaround of a once below-average roster.

“I wanted him to have his moment, because I’m not sure his jersey is going up (in the rafters),” Underwood said. “That’s the truth. He’s a pretty special young man in my book, and a great player, who’s come as far from the start to the finish as any player I’ve been around … I think our fans needed to know what that cat’s all about. The ultimate winner.”

@DrewFriberg

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