Underwood on NCAA Tournament Cancellation: “One of the most difficult conversations I’ve had with a team”

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Brad Underwood describes the conversation he had with his men’s basketball team on Thursday as “one of the most difficult conversations I’ve had with a team in my 33 years of coaching.”

Illinois (21-10, 13-7 in Big Ten) was projected to receive an at-large berth in the 2020 NCAA tournament and make the program’s first appearance in the event in seven years. The unprecedented announcement by NCAA president Mark Emmert to cancel the 2020 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments means the Illini’s men’s basketball season will end without participation in any postseason play.

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood reacts in the first half of a 2017 game against Northwestern Wildcats at Allstate Arena.
Illinois head coach Brad Underwood reacts in the first half of a 2017 game against Northwestern Wildcats at Allstate Arena.Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

The Illini third-year head coach released a media statement Thursday evening expressing his disappointment but understanding over the decision by the NCAA to end his team’s 2019-20 season.

“We are grateful for the leadership provided by the Big Ten and NCAA during these uncertain times. Some very difficult decisions were made, but I echo the sentiments of others who have said that this is bigger than basketball right now. There is nothing more important than the health and well-being of our student-athletes,” Underwood’s written statement reads. “Such an abrupt ending to this long journey led to one of the most difficult conversations I’ve had with a team in my 33 years of coaching. These young men are devastated to know they will not be able to walk out on that court together and compete for a championship. But I am going to focus on all that this team, led by our four seniors, has accomplished. I could not be prouder of a group than I am of the 16 guys in our locker room. It was an absolute joy to coach them, see the momentum and energy build in State Farm Center, and how much our fans appreciated the way they played. They worked their tails off and accomplished what they set out to do; bring Illinois Basketball back to national prominence and the NCAA Tournament.”

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