What Player Type Is Illini Coach Brad Underwood Looking For In A Transfer?

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Brad Underwood doesn’t exactly love the idea of the graduate transfer player for numerous reasons but has a player in mind for this role for the Illinois 2020-21 roster.

According to Stadium.com reporter Jeff Goodman, the transfer portal for the 2020 offseason has already topped 500 players and when asked this week on a media teleconference, Underwood specifically described the type of player who could help his program immediately.

“If a stretch four was the right fit potentially with the right body type and the right skill set, that’s one that we would maybe move on,” Underwood said during a media teleconference on Tuesday.

The interesting aspect of what Underwood is describing is that it can’t be ignored this “stretch four” player is fundamentally exactly what the Illini tried to transform Giorgi Bezhanishvili into after Kofi Cockburn arrived on campus as the prototypical center. By mid-February, Bezhanishvili was asked to come off the bench and is field goal percentage down 11 percent this season from his exciting rookie season (54 percent to 43 percent), his free throw percentage is down six percent (65 percent to 59 percent) with his rebounding numbers staying relatively stable.

Without an experienced stretch four player expected to join the roster, the experiment of playing Bezhanishvili and Cockburn together again appears to be on the mind of the Illini coaching staff for the upcoming 2020-21 season. However, reports have surfaced that Illinois might find a reliable forward in the graduate transfer market to take over the 13.8 minutes per game occupied by Kipper Nichols during this past season.

The individual states announcing stay-home mandates resulting from the COVID-19 world health epidemic have essentially shut down all on-campus and off-campus recruiting efforts beyond mailing materials, social media and Zoom video conferencing.

“I mean, we’re all in the same boat, and yet the transfer portal is filling up probably as we speak,” Underwood said. “You can’t bring those young people on campus. Everything will probably be done a little more now over the phone. I think it’s to be determined yet if you can convince a kid to come by a phone call.”

Yahoo! Sports reporter Jon Rothstein confirmed earlier this week that Rider grad transfer forward Frederick Scott has cut his list of possibilities to Arkansas, Boston College, Illinois, Illinois State, San Diego and San Francisco. Arkansas seems to arguably be perfect fit for Scott as Eric Musselman went 86-20 in his final three season at Nevada by being highly active in the transfer market before leaving the Wolf Pack for the former SEC powerhouse program. Scott, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward, was one of 29 players from Illinois that were a McDonald’s All-America nominee while playing his senior year at Simeon Academy in Chicago before signing with DePaul.

Scott was a third-team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference selection for the second-straight season after he averaged 12.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, both second on the team, in starting 18 of 30 games for a team that finished with an overall record of 18-12.

Rivals.com national basketball recruiting analyst Eric Bossi reported that Western Michigan transfer 6-foot-8 forward Brandon Johnson has been contacted by Illinois. Johnson, a Chicago native who began his prep career at Thornton Fractional South High School, averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a redshirt junior at Western Michigan. Johnson was a third Team All-Midwest Athletic Conference this past season after becoming the 44th member of WMU's 1,000-point club and making 31 starts in 32 games while averaging 31.0 minutes per game.

In the Tuesday media teleconference, Underwood expressed his tendency for not preferring the one-year transfer players and would rather use the traditional transfer players because the sit-out year allows them to properly adjust to the move, the locker room culture and the on-court strategic issues.

Illinois is among several Power 5 Conference programs to contact one of the nation’s most prominent transfer players. D.J. Carton, a former four-star guard out of Bettendorf, Iowa, who averaged 10.4 points and three assists before leaving the program in January is considering options from Auburn, Creighton, DePaul, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Seton Hall and Southern California.

“If we have a sit out guy, it could be a combination of anything from a big to a point guard,” Underwood said.

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