Underwood Believes Illini's 2020-21 Roster Still In "Unbelievable Position"

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Brad Underwood’s confidence in the future of the wing position exists in a pair of players who have yet to play a game at Illinois.

Despite a pair of transfer departures last week in the form Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones, Underwood pointed to a pair of transfers who will be eligible for the 2020-21 season to describe the depth he feels the Illini still have.

“I think we've got an unbelievable position in our roster where we prepared for guys who could possibly now be a part of it,” Underwood said on the 'Inside Fighting Illini Athletics' podcast Thursday.

Those preparations Underwood is talking about include Holy Cross transfer Jacob Grandison and Austin Hutcherson, who transferred in from Division III Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Holy Cross Crusaders guard Jacob Grandison (3) shoots against Siena Saints guard Kadeem Smithen (5) in the second half of this 2018 game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Holy Cross defeated Siena 57-45. Grandson sat out last season after transferring from Holy Cross to Illinois.
Holy Cross Crusaders guard Jacob Grandison (3) shoots against Siena Saints guard Kadeem Smithen (5) in the second half of this 2018 game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Grandison sat out last season after transferring from Holy Cross to Illinois.David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

During the 2018-19 season, Grandison, a 6-foot-6 and 200-pound forward, led Holy Cross in scoring as a sophomore and ranked 11th in the Patriot League in scoring with an average of 13.9 points per game.

"Jacob's a combo forward who can play really multiple positions. We love his versatility,” Underwood said.

Grandison led Holy Cross with 69 three-pointers, ranking eighth in the Patriot League with an average of 2.1 per game, while shooting 36.5 percent from three-point range on the season and scoring in double figures in 26 games, with eight 20-plus point performances.

“He ran the Princeton at Holy Cross, which is a system which is an elite passing and cutting offense that fits exceptionally well with what we do,” the Illini third-year head coach added. “He's tweaked his jump shot in working with (assistant coach) Stephen Gentry this entire season, and he was a 35-36 percent three-point shooter, but we think he'll be even better than that now.”

Hutcherson, a 6-foot-6 and 175-pound guard, was a first-team all-league selection in the New England Small College Athletic Conference after he led the NESCAC in scoring, three-pointers and free throw percentage while averaging 20.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists on the season.

“Austin's a guy that again can play multiple positions. He can play the one, two or three.” Underwood said. “He's known for being an elite shooter, but a guy who athletically is so gifted. He's by far and away the most gifted athlete we've had here in terms of speed, his jumping. He's set a bunch of records with (strength coach Adam Fletcher) in that area."

Griffin, a 6-foot-5 wing from Ossining, N.Y., was easily the most reliable three-point shooting option on the Illini during the 2019-20 campaign as the son of former NBA veteran Adrian Griffin knocked down 41.6 percent from beyond the arc. Unless he receives a waiver from the NCAA, Griffin, who averaged 8.9 points per game and 4.5 rebounds in just 18 minutes per contest, will have two years of eligibility remaining for any Division 1 program after he sits out the 2020-21 season.

Jones’ tenure with the Illini program was a roller coaster ride of small glimpses of high-ceiling potential mixed in with off-the-court suspensions and little consistent playing time under Illinois third-year head coach Brad Underwood. Jones was suspended in October for what would be the first eight games before the start of this past season for what school officials would only refer to as a “violation of team academic policies” but had still been active for practices. Jones’ extended absence dropped him in the Illini playing rotation and he would finish the 2019-20 campaign with only 0.9 points per game, 0.7 rebounds per game in only 4.8 minutes per contest.

“I don’t get into a lot of personnel reasons about why kids make decisions sometimes, and yet, the one thing you always want them to do is be successful,” Underwood said on the podcast. “If that’s something they don’t feel like they can do in our program, you wish them nothing but the best.”