CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois head coach Brad Underwood spoke to national, local and statewide media via Zoom video on April 14 on the first day of the spring signing period.
Illinois announced Wednesday the signing of four-star recruits Ramses "RJ" Melendez and Brandin Podziemski. The Illini also announced the transfer of 6-foot-10 center Omar Payne from Florida.
Underwood is the 18th head coach in Illinois history, hired in March 2017. He has won more than 67 percent of his games through his first seven years as a Division I head coach, recording five 20-win seasons and making four trips to the NCAA Tournament with a fifth appearance precluded by the cancellation of the 2020 postseason due to COVID-19.
Underwood directed Illinois to the largest turnaround among schools from the six major conferences last season (+10.0), while standing seventh across all of Div. I for most improved teams. Illinois was ranked for eight weeks and checked in at No. 21 in the final Associated Poll, finishing a season ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 2006.
The Illini recorded 21 victories during the regular season and won 13 Big Ten games – its most league wins since 2005 – to finish just one game back of the conference title. The Illini’s .650 winning percentage in league play was its best since 2006 and the program earned a bye to the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal round for the first time since 2011.
Underwood installed a new defense prior to year three and retooled the offense during the season, schematic changes that led to Illinois ranking in the top 40 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency for the first time in nine years. Those changes complemented the trademark of Underwood-led teams that excel in transition and on the glass. The Illini averaged more than 20 points per game in possessions under seven seconds and ranked 11th in the nation in both offensive rebound rate (35.6) and rebound margin (+7.5).
Illinois notched six Quad 1 wins on the season and was one of only two teams in the country to earn four road wins over teams in the top 35 of the NET. The Illini’s five Big Ten road victories were its most in the last 10 years, highlighted by its first win at Purdue since the 2009 season and its first wins at Wisconsin and at Michigan since 2010.