Illini Coach Already 'in awe' of Four-Star Guard Signee Andre Curbelo

Matthew Stevens

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It’s easy to see what Brad Underwood thinks he signed today when Andre Curbelo put pen to paper to finalize his recruitment to Illinois.

“I think he is, without question, the best passing guard in the country,” the Illini third-year head coach said Wednesday in his media conference. “It’s unfair because he’s a high school kid but I’ve compared him to Steve Nash.”

Curbelo, who Illinois lists at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, plays his high school basketball in the Long Island district of New York and verbally committed to the Illini program on Nov. 1. While at Long Island Lutheran High School last season, Curbelo led his team to the 2019 New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class AA title and was 18-0 against in-state competition.

Curbelo is the sixth player rated with four stars to sign with Illinois since Underwood was announced as the Illini’s head coach in March 18, 2017. 

Underwood made clear Wednesday in his media conference that Curbelo’s signing is as meaningful as when then-five-star guard Ayo Dosunmu from Chicago signed two years ago. If Dosunmu decides to leave Illinois after this season for the NBA Draft, Curbelo may be expected to take his spot in the starting lineup almost immediately.

“When we started to try and identify lead guards, he was at the top of our list,” Underwood said. “We were the first school to offer him.”

Curbelo was the only signee announced by Illinois Wednesday but three-star forward verbal commit Coleman Hawkins from California is expected to make his signing official this weekend.

The Illini staff are still actively recruiting four-star guard Adam Miller from Morgan Park H.S. in Chicago via Peoria (Ill.) Manual High School to complete its 2020 class. Miller, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard visited Illinois in September and has offers from Arizona, Arizona State and Kansas.

Curbelo, who is ranked No. 55 overall and the ninth-best point guard in the 2020 recruiting class according to 247Sports.com, is originally from Puerto Rico and marks the third player to commit to the Illini from a Caribbean island territory (Dominican Republic native Andre Feliz in 2018 and Jamaican native Kofi Cockburn in 2019) since Underwood hired former Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua to his staff in 2017.

“Orlando had relationships with the family, with the coaches so those relationships helped,” Underwood said. “I’ll put it this way. When you go someplace with Orlando, he knows everybody. He’s got a reputation, a likeness that is very seldom seen. Those connections allow you to get players. We call it having a hook.”

South Florida Bulls coach Orlando Antigua reacts from the bench in the first half against the Temple Owls during the AAC Tournament at the Amway Center.
Illinois assistant coach Orlando Antigua has brought a pipeline of talent from Caribbean nations to the Illini program including the newly signed Andre Curbelo. Logan Bowles/USA TODAY Sports

Curbelo took his official visit to the Illinois campus and was at Memorial Stadium on the weekend the Illini football team pulled off the 24-23 win over then-No. 6 Wisconsin, arguably the biggest upset in the 2019 college football season.

Whether it’s been Dosunmu now at Illinois or Jawun Evans at Oklahoma State, Underwood is confident his tradition of having elite point guards at Power 5 Conference programs will continue when Curbelo arrives in Champaign.

“He has the ability to raise the ability of everybody he’s on the court with,” Underwood said. “He’s a young man with unbelievable charisma and always has a smile on his face. It’s really funny because you almost sit in awe (when you watch him play).”

The only obvious knock on Curbelo is his generously listed 175-pound frame and how the Illinois strength and conditioning staff will need to get his body ready for the rigors of Big Ten Conference play. However, Underwood said Wednesday Curbelo’s game and skill with the basketball may allow him to transcend his initial lack of strength.

“It’s hard to describe but he plays in such a way that (lack of strength) doesn’t matter,” Underwood said. “His body is going to continue to mature. That part of it will be very natural and easy for him.” 

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