Basketball Signing Day Thoughts

Apr 15, 2021

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Been too topical lately. Need to be more random. Gotta do the SOC thing more. I need to work all parts of my writing brain, not just leg day.

So no structure to this one. Three players signed yesterday, a fourth (Omar Payne) could be officially announced because his financial aid paperwork was complete, so let's just talk about all of it.

We'll start with a tweet. Here's a two-part tweet from yesterday:

That was probably my biggest takeaway from the Zoom press conference. I did not expect Underwood to suggest he'd play all three of these incoming freshmen on the court together. As I wrote before, I saw them as very similar players - to over-generalize, "lanky shooters" - so I was a bit surprised to hear that he could see all three on the court together. Let me try to explain that:

Let's look at the main rotations this past season. The three most common rotations per KenPom:


Let's just take those second two - Belo, Trent, Ayo, and Monte plus a big - and project that into a future lineup with these three. Since none of these guys are point guards and none of these guys are bigs, we can just look at the (for lack of better terminology) 2-3-4 there. He's saying he could take Trent, Ayo, and Da'Monte out and put Podziemski, Melendez, and Goode in. That's very surprising to me.

Yes, I understand that an offense can adapt to the players on the roster. Yes, I know that these three recruits aren't identical. But all three on the court with a point guard and a big? He sees enough ball-handling and other-team's-athletic-guard defending in these three guys to play them at the same time?

I know he's talking in the future, not next year, but I'm still stuck on the comment 18 hours later. I'm trying to picture it and I can't. Maybe I'm too focused on "need at least three very-quick guards on the court at the same time", but that's where I land here.

Moving on...

Looking at the roster next season, so much hinges on Kofi's decision. I'd probably handicap it at 78% he goes/22% he stays, so let's try to fill out the lineup with Kofi gone. For this exercise we'll assume that Austin Hutcherson returns from his back injury and can play next season. And I'm assuming Trent is gone, Miller is not returning, Kofi is gone, and, for now, no other transfers. Working with the information we have as of 4/15 plus the assumption that Kofi goes. I know you're going to be tempted to "in my opinion we add {name} as a transfer and I also think {name} will return so we should be fine" in the comments, but please resist. This is "as things stand today and operating under the liklihood that Kofi goes pro".

Starters would be, uh, this is quite difficult. Starters would be... Curbelo - Hutcherson - Grandison - Hawkins - Payne? Nah, I don't think we can start Grandison and Hawkins together and guard most of the teams in the Big Ten. So... Curbelo - Podziemski - Hutcherson - Grandison - Payne?

OK so now I'm realizing that whatever guard transfer we land to replace Miller is basically everything. That guy has to be able to guard the best guard on the other team AND score in bunches. My goodness is the Adam Miller transfer massive. I knew it was massive, but it might be a "go from 19 wins to 15 wins" kind of transfer. I knew it was a big deal at the time but holy crap.

So yeah, I'm glad I'm writing this SOC-style. I'm kind of reeling at the moment. Sometimes I'll "know" things, but it's not until I write it out that I really understand the impact. Either Trent somehow returns, or Miller somehow returns, or we land an instant impact guard transfer, or we're in big trouble. Why have I not been freaking out about this?

Let's go to the bench. As it stands today, I'm going with a starting lineup of Belo, puh-DJIM-skee, Hutcherson, Grandison, and Payne. If we go with a "second five" - a replacement player at each position - that would be... OK yeah this isn't possible without knowing the transfers. At this point Curbelo is playing 40 minutes every single game because we don't have another point guard besides walkon Edgar Padilla Jr.

I must push through. I set out to "right now, here's the roster" and I'm going to finish with "right now, here's the roster". The five assumed starters and five backups:

Curbelo ~ Padilla Jr.
Podziemski - Melendez?
Hutcherson - Goode?
Grandison - Hawkins
Payne - Bosmans-Verdonk

I think I'm landing here. Is this one of the biggest "don't know yet" moments of my Illini fandom? That lineup right there, with Grandison as the only retruning starter and Curbelo and Hawkins as the only two players with any experience, is probably not finishing above .500. I see something like 15-16 (7-13) right there.

But then let's go absolute best-case scenario. Kofi returns for one more year. Trent decides on a Super Senior year. Miller decides to pull his name out of the portal and return. Well then it's this:


Hawkins is first off the bench, taking Grandison minutes in the same way Monte took those minutes. Then Hutcherson is the top guard off the bench. Eighth man is Payne, getting the Giorgi minutes from last year (Kofi plays 26 minutes, Payne 14). Ninth guy is whichever freshman is most ready (Podz? Melendez? Goode?). And then the 10th guy is the same as last year - a big in case Kofi & Payne are both in foul trouble (was BBV at the end of the year).

That's... 23 wins? Something like 23-8 (13-7) going into the Big Ten Tournament?

Where I've landed: we know absolutely nothing yet. We know 11 names for sure: Curbelo, Hutcherson, Grandison, Hawkins, Payne, Melendez, Goode, Podziemski, BBV, Lieb, and Hamlin. If the three players above all return (Trent would make 14, but that's allowed next year with a Super Senior), then it changes everything. If we add two more transfers, it could change everything. Everything changes everything.

There you go. Signing Day 2021? We know nothing.

And....... publish without editing.


BananaShampoo on April 15, 2021 @ 02:38 PM

Seems like there are indications (from his dad/family) that Trent is staying another year, though Trent hasn't announced it himself yet. Also, what if Miller goes but we get Alfonso Plummer (Belo's buddy who played at Utah)? And perhaps Tre Mitchell is still in play? So much in flux it's hard to say anything with any certainty, but all permutation can have major implications. At least I know Illinois isn't the only team in this boat. The new normal I guess.

ClassOfDeeDeronJames on April 15, 2021 @ 05:06 PM

I'm 80% Kofi stays. Too bad we won't know for sure for months. Would save a lot of angst for everyone.

IBFan on April 15, 2021 @ 07:20 PM

What we know is the floor is higher. We know the team will play hard. We know that if the freshmen earn tick they will get it. We know that Curbelo, Hawkins, Miller can all play at this level after watching their 1st year. We have no absolutes about team makeup or lineups. But as we’ve seen with bringing in talent over the last couple years that if Miller leaves, Kofi leaves things will still be ok.

HNLINI on April 15, 2021 @ 07:41 PM

I'm not convinced that the B1G, given the coaching changes and player turnover, will be nearly as tough a league this year as last year. And we will likely have a few more easy games on the schedule. So I think that even with Grandison, Curbelo, Hawkins, Payne and a transfer to be named later (cause if Trent, DeMonte and Adam all leave, we will land a quality transfer) representing the vast majority of our "returning" D1 experience, we will be at 8-3 Non Con, 10-10 Conf. at minimum.

IlliniJoe81 on April 15, 2021 @ 08:28 PM

Yeah, we know nothing yet. Can't fill out a roster based on % of players (25% of a Kofi + 60% of a Frazier + 35% of a Miller, etc.)

The other disturbing thing is that there is no guarantee that any of these signees is here as a sophomore. Do we have to start over again next offseason? Probably not but again we just don't know.

IlliniJedi on April 15, 2021 @ 08:54 PM

I was so hopeful in the games Ayo was out with the concussion that we were watching next year's team with Curbelo, Miller and Cockburn dominating. Having only Belo return would be a gutpunch.

Douglascountyillinifan on April 15, 2021 @ 09:00 PM

Is Damonte definitely gone?

larue on April 15, 2021 @ 09:43 PM

As to the three freshmen playing together at some point, I decided some time ago to ignore everything Underwood says about players. There are so many examples of saying this guy is a savant and that guy is an elite shooter/passer/athlete, and then they never really see the floor before they move on to do pretty much nothing somewhere else.

I have no real problem with it, I think a coach should be positive about his guys in public statements, but I don't think it means anything.

neale stoner on April 16, 2021 @ 09:54 AM

Podz played point his senior year in high school

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