The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

‘This is an ultra, ultra competitive group’: Underwood previews 2023-24 season for Illinois men’s basketball

Head+coach+Brad+Underwood+speaks+to+the+referees+as+the+Illini+takes+on+Rutgers+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Feb.+11.%0AUnderwood+looks+positively+on+the+upcoming+team+to+play+during+2023-2024+season.
The Daily Illini Photo File
Head coach Brad Underwood speaks to the referees as the Illini takes on Rutgers at State Farm Center on Feb. 11. Underwood looks positively on the upcoming team to play during 2023-2024 season.

With less than a month to go until Illinois men’s basketball tips off at State Farm Center, the program hosted its annual media day to provide the inside scoop on the team. Head coach Brad Underwood kicked off the proceedings with a press conference in which he gave insights into where the 2023-24 Illini are currently at.

One thing Underwood made sure to stress was the fitness and sheer athleticism found within this current squad. In describing the team’s successful workouts with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher, Underwood boldly stated how the 2023-24 Illini rank compared to previous years.

“The most important thing is the time with (Fletcher) in the weight room and conditioning,” Underwood said. “It has been, without question, and I think if (Fletcher) was here, he would tell you, this has been the best we’ve ever had in terms of that.”

Illinois has certainly been putting in the work this offseason, highlighted by fifth-year guard Justin Harmon breaking the program record for the fastest mile time previously held by former Illini Jacob Grandison and Trent Frazier. Harmon’s pace was described as “getting on a treadmill and setting it to about 12.8” for a full mile.

“This is an ultra, ultra-competitive group, and little things, mile times, we all have it as part of our conditioning tests,” Underwood said. “Usually, most people just try to get through that. There’s a lot of complaining about ‘well, we’re not a track team’ or this or that. They shared their all trying to shatter records, and it’s been a very mature, competitive group.”

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    Underwood had high praise for the depth and experience of the roster, a reassuring sign for Illini fans heading into the 2023-24 season. During its successful trip to Spain during the summer, Illinois was able to rotate the team and spread minutes across the squad.

    “It was fantastic on every front,” Underwood said regarding the team’s time in Spain. “We had a great group of donors go, travel was great, we had incredible weather every day, everybody had fun and enjoyed it, and the basketball was pretty good as well.”

    After kicking off the trip with a hard-fought 84-73 victory over the Madrid All-Stars, Illinois went on to secure two more extremely lopsided 105-60 and 103-69 wins against Valencia and the Catalonia All-Stars, respectively. While fifth-year forward Marcus Domask missed out due to injury, the rest of the Illini were able to get substantial time on the floor during their time overseas.

    Regarding leadership, Illinois has a lot of experience under its belt, with Harmon, Domask, fifth-year guard Terrence Shannon Jr., senior forward Coleman Hawkins and fifth-year forward Quincy Guerrier all rostered for the coming year. With both Shannon and Hawkins returning after going through the NBA draft process over the past few months, the duo will be looked upon by teammates and fans alike to step up and serve as leaders on the court in Champaign. There is going to be a plethora of experience on the floor for Underwood’s team.

    It comes as a significant turnaround from last season, where Underwood and the Illini had the opposite become reality: taking a young, inexperienced, overall new-look squad into the battlegrounds of NCAA basketball.

    It won’t be long until Illinois returns to action, with the team preparing for a return to State Farm Center on Oct. 20 to welcome Ottawa to Champaign for an exhibition game. After a strong summer and an optimistic Underwood, Illini fans have plenty of reasons to hope for a memorable year of Illinois basketball.

     

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    About the Contributor
    James Kim, Sports Editor
    My name is James Kim and I’m a senior studying English with a minor in business. This is my third year with The Daily Illini and it’s been an amazing ride so far. When I joined in fall 2021, I began as a staff writer for the sports section where I covered women’s tennis. In spring 2022, I became an assistant sports editor and started covering soccer and Illinois men’s basketball. From spring 2023 onwards I’ve been working as the sports editor! In addition to being an Illini and Real Madrid fanatic, I also love watching movies and TV shows. If you have any questions about writing for The DI, you can reach me at my email below. I-L-L!
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