Summer (?) Needs

Jun 4, 2020

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The last few years, in June, I've written about our basketball recruiting needs for the summer. "When hitting the road in July, the coaches will be looking for A, B, and C." Well, there's no road to hit this July (at least, not like the roads of the last few decades), and so recruiting is going to be a little different.

But we still have needs. And we should still talk about them. Even though no visits or evaluations can take place at the moment. In my view, here's what we're looking for.

First off, my assumptions. I'm assuming that:

  • Ayo stays in the draft. This is somewhat pointless for this exercise because I'm looking at needs for November 2021 and even on the slight chance Ayo returns this fall, he's definitely gone after next season, so whether he leaves this year or next year, he won't be part of that team.
  • Kofi returns next season but then declares. I'm saying he's back for 2020/21 but then declares and will not be part of the 2021/22 team.

It's also possible some other player leaves between now and then. Maybe... we land three 5-star bigs and BBV decides to go back to Belgium or whatever. Maybe Jermaine Hamlin decides to leave. Perhaps I should just add a 14th spot to every roster I put together and call it the Higgs-Vesel Scholarship (it will open up once a Higgs or Vesel transfers out) which, I should note, is a much better name than the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker Of The Year award which is just a damn travesty.

We'd also lose two seniors (Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams). Maybe I should just list the scholarship players for next season and we can go from there.

2020/21 Illini
Trent Frazier (SR)
Da'Monte Williams (SR)
Giorgi Bezhanishvili (JR)
Jacob Grandison (JR)
Austin Hutcherson (JR)
Kofi Cockburn (SO)
Jermaine Hamlin (SO)
Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (rs-FR)
Adam Miller (FR)
Andre Curbelo (FR)
Coleman Hawkins (FR)

(I'm assuming BBV gets a medical redshirt. Played in 9 games, missed the rest of the year with a foot injury.)

Here's where this gets messy. Right now, if Ayo does not return, we're at 11 scholarships for next season. If Kofi does not return, we're down to 10. If both return, we're at 12.

And we might add a summer transfer. We've certainly been listed with a few. If we do, then the list above goes from 11 to 12. And that takes one scholarship away from the 2021 class. This is getting confusing. I'll draw a hard line. Assumptions:

  • Right now there are 10 players returning.
  • I'm assuming Kofi returns so that's 11.
  • I'm assuming Ayo does not return - we stay at 11.
  • I'll then assume Kofi declares after the 2021 season.

That means that a year from today, with Big Ten Player of the Year Kofi Cockburn off to the draft, plus Trent and Da'Monte graduating, the players moving into the dorms to begin summer workouts will be:

2021/22 Illini
Giorgi Bezhanishvili
Jacob Grandison
Austin Hutcherson
Jermaine Hamlin
Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk
Adam Miller
Andre Curbelo
Coleman Hawkins
Luke Goode (2021 verbal)
Plus perhaps a summer 2020 transfer not yet known.

That would mean we're looking for three more players in the 2021 class. I can't help but make this confusing, can I? The class will either be 3 players + Goode or, if we don't add that summer transfer for this season (or if someone else leaves), 4 players + Goode. Let's just stick with 4 players + Goode. Five players will choose Illinois between the end of this past season and the beginning of the 2021/22 season. Goode was the first.

What are the needs? Let's do that dumb "1, 1/2, 2..." exercise I always do. I know you'll disagree with some of them ("Curbelo is more of a 1/2, not a 1"), but this is just an exercise to spot holes. The 2021/22 team:

1 - Curbelo (SO)
1/2 -
2 - Miller (SO)
2/3 - Goode (FR)
3 - Hutcherson (SR)
3/4 - Grandison (SR), Hawkins (SO)
4 - Bosmans-Verdonk (JR)
4/5 - Bezhanishvili (SR), Hamlin (JR)
5 -

The obvious holes are the empty spots. And those holes will have been vacated by players who had just left. There won't be a combo guard like Trent who can handle the point and also shoot from the wing. There also won't be a big man at the five, an obvious, massive hole vacated by Kofi.

To make this more confusing, let me rate those players with confidence ratings. 1 to 10, here's how confident I am that this player, in that role, during that season, will provide consistent play on the court. Ayo as a freshman would be a 6, as a sophomore an 8 or a 9, and, if he were to somehow return, as a junior, a 10. It will be hard to do this for the transfers (who has any idea what Hutcherson brings?), but... let's just get to it.

1 - Curbelo (SO) -- 8
1/2 -
2 - Miller (SO) -- 9
2/3 - Goode (FR) -- 2
3 - Hutcherson (SR) -- 6
3/4 - Grandison (SR) -- 5; Hawkins (SO) -- 4
4 - Bosmans-Verdonk (JR) -- 3
4/5 - Bezhanishvili (SR) -- 8; Hamlin (JR) -- 3
5 -

My first thought after that exercise: man, do we ever need Austin Hutcherson to step into Alan Griffin's shoes seamlessly. It won't happen, and I'm already putting too much pressure on the kid, but man, that would be everything. Long, athletic wing who played high school ball in New York City is the instant offense (and offensive rebounding) we need from time to time. In 2020 he wore number 0, in 2021 he'll wear #22. I can dream.

OK, I'm doing too much setting up and not enough knocking down. We've established what we have - what do we need? Maybe the best way to do this is to take those ratings and look at those players as starters or backups. Ideally, during the 2021/22 season, would a guy fall under "definite starter" or "better off the bench"? Because the "better off the bench" guys are the spots where we need to recruit more depth. Since I'm making this up as I go along, maybe players with a rating of 7-8-9-10 are starter-worthy, 3-4-5-6 are bench guys, and 1-2 are "too young/not ready yet"?

That would come out to:

Starters: Curbelo, Miller, Bezhanishvili
Bench: Hutcherson, Grandison, Hawkins, BBV, Hamlin
Too young/not ready yet: Goode

Hmmm... this is starting to get concerning. Maybe Hutcherson or Grandison out-perform their expectations and grow into Big Ten starters (and Andres Feliz-like situation), but right now, for the 2021/22 season, I think there are only three definite starters. And two of them are in the 2020 class. I'm glad I went about it this way. I think this is showing me how important this class will be. And how Alan Griffin's transfer will be felt for several years. We really, really, really need Hutcherson or Grandison (or maybe some summer 2020 transfer to be named later) to be a thing.

Alright, let's get to needs. There are eight scholarships taken above. Goode makes nine. There's four left (I'm guessing one transfer plus three more recruits, but whatever). Here's the needs:

Combo Number Two

A Trent replacement, basically. If Curbelo needs a break, this guy can play the point. If he's needed to be the come-off-screens shooter, he can be that guy. Some nights you look up and say "huh - he only had six points" and other nights he's your offense.

We'll be needing to replace Da'Monte's defense as well, so if this guy could be, like, a lockdown defender... that would be greeaat. Just land a Luther so that we can say "Curbelo-Miller-(this guy)" in a few years like we say Dee-Deron-Luther.

(Yes, I know that's blasphemy.)

Kofi 2.0

I just realized that this is setting up to be the most boring post ever. "To replace Trent and Kofi after the 2021 season we need to recruit a Trent replacement and a Kofi replacement. The end. You're welcome. Please comment/like/subscribe."

But we really do need a big's big. Rim protect, rebound, dunk things - do everything that just earned Kofi Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Kofi is going to leave a very large hole.

A Wing's Wing

As mentioned above, we know basically nothing about Hutcherson and Grandison as of today (maybe they're superstars - we just don't know yet), and with Hawkins being more on the Big Man end of things, we really need someone to fill those Aaron Jordan/Da'Monte Williams/Alan Griffin minutes. Both in the 21/22 season and in the future after Hutcherson and Grandison graduate.

This is where it would be so perfect to land a superstar recruit. A superstar freshman wing paired with sophomore Curbelo and sophomore Miller? Be still my beating heart.

Frontcourt Insurance

Here's the thing about recruiting frontcourt projects like Jermaine Hamlin and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (and, to some degree, Coleman Hawkins although Hawkins appears to have much higher upside): a full collection of projects means you might not have anything at all. I feel great about Miller and Curbelo as the starting backcourt. You've seen them talked about in "best backcourt in the Big Ten in a few years?" terms. I'm not really sure what we're getting from any of the frontcourt guys listed there. So we need some insurance. Someone to fill Kipper and Giorgi-like minutes.

(The fifth spot here would be "shooters shoot", but that slot is filled by Luke Goode. Even if he just turns out to be Kyle Ahrens at Michigan State, that's still something we need. If he turns into something better than that, great.)

This is the point where I re-read a post to see if I landed where I was hoping to land. And the answer is.. not even close? What a mess. I start out wanting to go this way, then I go that way. Every time that happens, I realize that a post could have just been one sentence.

Brad Underwood needs to surround Curbelo and Miller with young talent - basically fill every position where Curbelo and Miller won't play plus land a third guard to pair with them.

Should be easy.


IBFan on June 4, 2020 @ 08:50 PM

So much time to get there from here and the staff has proven it can get quality players. Lots of work to do, lots of moving parts. Is it weird that I’m just not that concerned? Maybe just overconfidence in BU and staff?

Robert on June 5, 2020 @ 08:10 AM

Agree that there's a lot of time. I guess my concern is finding replacements who get us back to where we want to be.

Ayo leaves - we add another top-30 guard from Morgan Park (Miller) and we keep on rolling along.

Feliz graduates - we add another ball-handler-who-can-get-in-the-lane in Curbelo. Keep on keepin' on.

Now Trent will graduate and (in my scenario) Kofi stays for one more year and then leaves. If we're going to keep on keepin' on, who replaces them? I don't see Trent's replacement on the roster right now. I certainly don't see another Kofi. I like recruits like Hawkins and Goode and think they'll blossom as upperclassmen but we still need the big pieces around them.

So if we want to stay at our current spot (finished the season #21 in the polls) for 2022 and beyond, we really have to find a Kofi replacement and a Trent replacement in this class. And they'll have to play immediately, so that means we probably have to find top-50 recruits (like Curbelo and Miller).

Robert on June 5, 2020 @ 08:21 AM

And I forgot my "college basketball is so easy" paragraph that I always put in these posts.

Add Max Christie as the wing guard and Mike Foster as the power forward and I think a starting lineup of Curbelo (SO) - Miller (SO) - Christie (FR) - Foster (FR) - Bezhanishvili (SR) is a top-10 team. It's so easy - land two players and you're there.

We won't, of course. The only player inside the top-20 to pick Illinois in the last 25 years is Dee Brown, and he was #19. That's been our cap since the 80's - the top-20 means too rich for our blood. But that's how easy college basketball can be. Football, overhaul and rebuild an entire roster of 85. Basketball, land two top-20 players to pair with Curbelo and Miller and we're there.

Eagle on June 5, 2020 @ 09:14 AM

You’re too hard on yourself Robert. I love how you laid this out with the current roster followed by the following year’s roster, then a breakdown by position and ending with the value rating. It’s logical and draws a picture that’s easy to understand. Just because it reaches a conclusion that’s fairly obvious, that doesn’t diminish the value. It verifies what we thought was true and proves it with detail. You filled in some pixels for me. Great work.

Nashvegas Illini on June 5, 2020 @ 10:10 AM

I agree and love to see two Robert comments on his own post. Makes me smile....

IBFan on June 5, 2020 @ 10:22 AM

My thoughts also. Lots of info, a little RR’s prognostications, and him having time to engage a little more....ohhhh that site fee is going to be punishing! I think Kofi is hardest to Maybe have to pivot and settle for a non 300lb 7footer who can pass, make free throws, runs the floor, likes to play defense, and has good hands and feet. Can you imagine if this was 1990 NBA?

skibdaddy on June 5, 2020 @ 10:42 AM

Kofi will be impossible to replace. Perhaps we will be able to groom someone to be like Egwu - shot blocker, rebounder, screener.

I also think you are not seeing the upside in Hutch/Grand. I think Griffin left because he saw a logjam in the minutes available at the 3 because of these guys. If they can combine to produce numbers we'll be fine.

Joel Goodson on June 8, 2020 @ 11:01 AM

Very good article. I think Hutch is far more versatile than a 3. WRT '21s, you've nailed it. FWLIW, I really like the St. Louis wing, Nesbitt. Seems like the interest is reciprocal. Jones is clearly a Plan A guy too. Hope we land one of them.

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