COLUMN: Illini Must Make Perimeter Sense Even If Alan Griffin’s Decision Doesn’t
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Alan Griffin’s announcement to transfer couldn’t come as a shock to the Illinois coaching staff. Not on Tuesday evening, at least.
Griffin has announced his intention to transfer away from the University of Illinois men’s basketball program with the help of a professionally edited and produced Instagram photo and the rule of thumb always is as such: If a player is transferring and the note looks professionally crafted over several days, chances are, it probably was.
The reasonable initial question for anybody evaluating this move is: Why? To quote Vinny from Goodfellas after Tommy gets whacked - “We had a problem and we tried to do everything we could. I mean, he’s gone and we couldn’t do nothing about it.”
Without hearing an interview with Griffin himself (and the ‘please respect my decision’ usually implies he’s not interested in doing so) Illini fans can not and should not concern themselves with why Griffin has become the sixth player to leave the Illinois program under Brad Underwood’s guidance. Maybe Griffin wants to team up with his five-star younger brother prospect at Duke. Maybe Griffin wants to expand his game to more than being a perimeter shooting expert and didn’t see an opportunity to do that in his third year wearing the orange and blue. Maybe he’s a 21-year-old making rash decisions based only on the idea that Griffin cares about who is starting and Underwood doesn’t. Again, who cares? He’s gone and apparently, there isn’t anything anybody at the University of Illinois could do about it.
The reason you, I and all humans still stuck inside during this in-house quarantine can logically assume the Illini coaching staff was already preparing for life without jersey No. 0 at the State Farm Center was the multiple reports Illinois was actively involved in the transfer market itself this offseason.
Reports have linked this Illini coaching staff to Virginia Tech leading scorer Landers Nolley, a 6-foot-7 wing who announced his intention to transfer last week. Nolley, who is likely to be one of the most coveted transfers of this summer and would likely make an immediate impact on Illinois’ 2021-22 season, was the only player in the Atlantic Coast Conference and one of just seven high-major players to average more than 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Nolley isn’t the only Illini target in the transfer market. Ohio State transfer DJ Carton, a former four-star guard prospect who averaged 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 23.9 minutes last season, will have his pick of over a dozen schools with interest. Needless to say, Illinois is one of them.
The one question that never made sense was figuring out the math was going to work. Division 1 men’s college basketball programs are allowed 13 scholarships and as of March 25, 2020, Illinois is at the maximum 13 allotted spots. Ayo Dosunmu, and his looming decision to turn professional, still takes up one of those spots as does the two early signees (four-star point guard Andre Curbelo and three-star forward Coleman Hawkins). Add in verbal commitment Adam Miller, who doesn’t seem at all likely of a summer flip, and subtract Griffin and the Illini find themselves at the lucky number of 13 again. Therefore, Dosunmu waves goodbye for professional basketball or another roster casualty occurs and Illinois will be in search of ready-made help once again.
However, none of that scholarship math homework check (and don’t think I didn’t run those numbers by my Illinois beat colleagues to make sure this college graduate was adding and subtracting correctly) provide help for next season.
Unless Miller arrives as the Champaign-Urbana version of Klay Thompson, and his reputation after dazzling at Morgan Park for two years is more of an all-around scorer and not a shooter, than Illinois has a now problem. Who is going to make shots?
Maybe that will come in the form of Jacob Grandison. The former leading scorer at Holy Cross (13.9 points per game) in the 2018-19 season arrived at Illinois shot 36.5 percent from three-point range in a Bill Carmody offense designed specifically to get shooters open. Grandison is already being lauded for being a major reason the scout team in practice occasionally works over the Illini defense in its closed-door sessions during this past season.
“Jacob playing in a system at Holy Cross where passing and cutting is so important, you see that and how that fits us,” Underwood said. “He’s an elite cutter. He’s really worked hard at becoming a consistent shooter from the perimeter.”
Maybe the addition of Curbelo on the ball constantly will free up Trent Frazier to return to the 40-percent three-point shooter he was in his first two seasons and not the head-scratching 30-percent shooter he was this past season.
Maybe Da’Monte Williams, who ended this past season making 5 of 8 from beyond the arc in his final three games after missing 30 of 38 in the previous 28 games, will find his offensive rhythm to go along with his superior defensive skill set.
No matter the reason for why it happened, Illinois must find a solution to the issue of how a team that desperately struggled to make any long-range shots at times can maintain the same low-bar of efficiency without its best option in that category. Regardless of Griffin’s reasons, that’s a math problem I can’t seem to figure how to make sense of right now for the Illini.