Analysis: UPDATED - Illini Men's Basketball Currently at 12 Scholarship Players

Illinois men's basketball head coach Brad Underwood did not want to directly address media questions regarding his scholarship count. So, Illini Now/Sports Illustrated will do it for him.
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- After announcing the signing of Utah graduate transfer guard Alfonso Plummer and confirming the return of guard Trent Frazier for a fifth season, Illinois head coach Brad Underwood was asked twice in his last Zoom media conference if his Illini program was at the NCAA limit of 13 scholarship players as of April 19, 2021.

Underwood declined to give an easy to this easy fact-based inquiry.

WCIA Sports Reporter Marlee Wierda: “Where are you at today in terms of your scholarship limit?

Underwood: “Where do you want it to be? 19? 18? We’ll be at 13 (scholarships) by the time school starts. I can tell you that. We’re in a great place. Let’s put it that way. We’re in a really, really good place.”

Wierda asked a fact-based question of the Illini fourth-year head coach and Underwood gave a 42-word and 20-second response that did not provide an answer.

Later on in the media conference, I decided to give Underwood a chance to answer the question again in a new version of the same topic where he’d only have to give a one-word, one-second answer.

My question: “Brad, as of today, could you sign another player either via the transfer portal or with a late signee like you did last year with Brandon Lieb or are you currently at the limit of scholarship players?”

Underwood: “I think we’re juggling balls. I think that you always look. We’re in a situation in today’s world and we have no drop dead date where players can leave. I think we’d be foolish to not continue to look. We could bring guys here in August and they transfer out. We’re going to have another wave in the portal. When some guys decide to pull out of the draft and come back to college, they could be in the portal. It’s our new culture and our new world. We’ll be at 13 when school starts. Or 12. Or 11. But we won’t be over.”

To be very clear. An actual answer to my question starts with either of the following two words: A) Yes. B) No. And following either of those two words, Underwood is logically free to give whatever context, rant or explanation he deems necessary to properly explain his one-word answer.

However, Underwood decided to give a 103-word, 61-second response that did not answer the question.

This was a very simple concept that Underwood was clearly not interested in participating in. Either Illinois is currently at the limit of 13 scholarship players or they could sign another player today or tomorrow without being over the limit.

Therefore, Underwood failed both times to address the issue but that’s not a problem at all. Illini Now/Sports Illustrated has decided to go ahead and answer the question ourselves.

UPDATED - 5:08 p.m. CST on April 20, 2021, the University of Illinois men’s basketball program is at 12 scholarship players.

According to verbalcommits.com, Illinois sophomore center Jermaine Hamlin has put his name in the transfer portal leaving an open scholarship for the Illini coaching staff. 

The following scholarship chart details where Illinois sits with its 2021-22 roster:

Seniors (2)

Trent Frazier - *Doesn’t count toward NCAA’s 2021-22 scholarship limit

Alfonso Plummer - graduate transfer from Utah

Juniors (2)

Jacob Grandison

Austin Hutcherson

Sophomores (2)

Kofi Cockburn

Omar Payne - transfer from Florida

Freshmen (4)

Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk

Andre Curbelo

Coleman Hawkins

Brandon Lieb

2021 SIGNEES (3)

Luke Goode

RJ Melendez

Brandin Podziemski

TBA

Senior guard Da’Monte Williams - *Doesn’t count toward NCAA’s 2021-22 scholarship limit

According to NCAA rules, the two senior Illini players who have the option to return to college basketball for the 2021-22 season (Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams) will not count toward that total of 13. Because he is signed out of the transfer portal, Plummer’s one season at Illinois will count toward Illinois’ total of 13 scholarship players.

Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) searches for a teammate to pass the ball to during the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 21, 2021, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. Cockburn will have until July 19 to withdraw from the 2021 NBA Draft. 

Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) searches for a teammate to pass the ball to during the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 21, 2021, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. Cockburn will have until July 19 to withdraw from the 2021 NBA Draft. 

The decision of sophomore center Kofi Cockburn to enter the NBA Draft or return to college basketball for a third season puts the Illini in limbo of one scholarship and the deadline for players to withdraw from the draft process without having to reapply for NCAA eligibility and likely to incur penalties is July 19. Therefore, Cockburn’s scholarship status could be in limbo until then or until the 7-foot, 290-pound center makes his draft decision.

Therefore, if Illinois were to announce another signee from the transfer portal or another 2021 high school signee, it would mean either the coaching staff is assured of Cockburn's decision not to return or a scholarship player from last season isn’t remaining on athletic aid.