Looks Like University Of Illinois -Bernard Kouma
Times I said "who?" following Illini basketball recruiting from 2000 to 2017 - twice, I think: once for Dom Keller, once for Ibby Djimde. I was at least aware that we were recruiting every other verbal. Times I've said "who" the last two years: maybe five times? Let's make a list.
Players whose name I heard for the first time the week that they verballed:
Now, maybe some of you subscribe to insider sites and knew about these players well in advance. I do not, so maybe I'm just in the dark here and you've all been discussing Kouma for months. But I've been obsessively following basketball recruiting since one had to go to the store to buy a magazine to find out the top-100 players in the country, and I'm telling you that even pre-internet (when it was just magazines and newspapers) I feel like I knew more about the players we're recruiting than I do right now. 1991, I'm obsessively following the Richard Keene recruitment. 2019, I find out about Bernard Kouma the day he commits to Illinois.
This must be what it was like for my dad. He'd grab the newspaper and find out that Illinois signed some kid named Perry Range and not really give it another thought until he saw Range on the court the next fall. Now, if I haven't dissected film and decided personally if the kid should be a priority recruit, I don't feel prepared for the verbal. "Wait, I need to know if I like this or not", basically.
At least for Feliz, who visited the day of the spring game last year, I got to watch him play basketball at the open scrimmage at Ubben. That was fairly tidy. I hear the name of a juco guard we're recruiting, he's visiting for the weekend, I watch him play, he verbals a few days later. This whole "Bernard Kouma just verballed to Illinois - who?" text from friends thing is just weird. Well, having to text "wait, what?" is the weird part.
So... who is he? Well, he's a 6'-10" forward from New York City. He's not "from" NYC - he's from the Republic of Chad - but he played basketball at Our Savior Lutheran in the Bronx this past season. Last night, I spent 90 minutes watching this game on YouTube where Kouma's team played Khalil Whitney's team. Kouma had a big game, but just try to not watch Whitney if you watch the game. Man, that would have been so great.
What sticks out about Kouma? Well, he lumbers when running down the court. I don't know if I should use the words "not athletic" here, but he runs like Adonis De La Rosa. When Nnanna Egwu ran down the floor, you saw an athletic gait. That is not Kouma. He ADLR's down the court.
This does not mean he can't be a successful college basketball player. Especially in Underwood's offense. As you probably know, I came around to "Underwood is looking for very specific forwards and centers" quite early in his tenure, and after watching 90 minutes of Kouma playing basketball, his passing is what sticks out. He even tries an over-the-shoulder, three-quarter-length-of-the-court outlet pass to a streaking teammate.
So when I see that, and when I think about what Underwood is looking for, I think that this offer is all about a passing big in the pinch post. Underwood wants a second point guard there, and I'm guessing he watched Kouma play and was willing to overlook the lack of athleticism because he thinks he has that big man skill he covets: passing.
Kouma has a great game in the linked video there. At one point I think the announcers said he had 24 points and 14 rebounds (as well as several blocks). He hit several free throws, seemed to have a nice shooting touch, and was able to catch and finger-roll off a pick-and-roll. It's just.. a little clumsy when he does it since he's not a silky smooth athlete.
The announcers also list off his schools during the game (this game happened well before his Illinois commitment). The list that the play-by-play guy reads off:
That gives us a pretty good idea of the level of recruit we're adding here. I know that Underwood gets credit for finding Giorgi, but Giorgi had Minnesota and Seton Hall interested; that list above is a few rungs below Minnesota and Seton Hall.
But hey - what do I know? I gave Samba three Tom Cruises (just based on athleticism) and I gave Giorgi 1.5 Cruises (based pretty much only on his ranking and that dribbling around chairs video) and then Giorgi danced his way to one of the best freshman big seasons in school history. I always have too much football in my basketball, and football tells me that athleticism is everything (like, EVERYTHING), so when I see Samba run and jump and dunk and I see Giorgi dribble around a chair, I'm more drawn to Samba. Underwood is more drawn to Giorgi.
And Underwood is apparently drawn to Bernard. Hands? Touch? Passing? Those are apparently more important than athleticism for our bigs. (But would it kill us to land some athletes? I thought we wanted all five guys out running on the break?)
For Tom Cruises, I can't go with very many. Low-major offers, low-major athleticism, this looks like a long-term project. If that was a football player, that would earn 1.5 or 2 Tom Cruises. I gave Giorgi 1.5 Cruises, so maybe it's a good luck charm.
Bernard Kouma - One and one-half Tom Cruises