‘I’m not afraid to play freshman’

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Illini basketball list is still a work in progress at this time with lots of focus centered around the overhaul of the backcourt.

With Brandin Underground By entering the transfer portal earlier this week, Illinois is queuing up to have a brand new guard squad for next season. Brad Underwood and his staff have expressed interest in a handful of perimeter pieces in the transfer portal. That said, the Illini principal is not afraid to lean heavily on his talented collection of beginners.

Five star guard Skyy Clark wrote his letter of intent on Wednesday. He is the highest ranked recruit that the program has signed on the site Dee Brown in the 2002 class. Clark is the title of Underwood’s 2022 class, which is currently ranked as the eighth best class in the country.

“He’s an extremely athletic, versatile, scoring guard with great physical size at his position,” Underwood said in the program’s Signing Day press release. “He can play both guard spots, but is best when the ball is in his hands because of his ball handling and decision making. He also has a work ethic that is second to none. Skyy is committed to the game; he lives in the gym and is driven to win. ”

Underwood told reporters on Wednesday that Clark “is still in recovery condition” when he recovered from his ACL injury last summer, causing him to miss a good portion of his senior season. Clark returned to the pitch in early January, but he struggled with a hand injury and also a lower body ailment that caused him to miss Geico Nationals a few weeks ago.

Earlier this week, Clark told WCIA3’s Bret Beherns that his knee is 100 percent, but he’s still working to get his body back in shape before the injury. Underwood said Clark will need to get proper medical approval, but he thinks he will be ready to go when he arrives on campus in June. He added that there are no major concerns about Clark’s ability to recover completely.

“His knee is not a problem,” Underwood said. “He’s an extremely strong young man. He has an amazing set of legs as far as his quads are concerned. They are really important in relation to the knee. It just requires process, training and retraining. Skyy gets it from the jump when he comes here. “

It’s still to be seen what the whole backfield picture is going to look like this summer, but Underwood is very excited about the way Clark and the top-75 guards are. Jayden Epps can complement each other.

“I love it. They’re both guys who can score the ball. They’re both guys who can make others better,” Underwood said. “They’re guys who play downhill, and most importantly, guys can take their own. It is something that is very, very valuable. And then they both have an amazing body. They are both strong, they are both physical and have mature body for their age. It will help them tremendously. ”

Long two-way screen Sencire Harris could also get a proper run as a beginner.

“We have a great opportunity for the young men to step in,” Underwood said. “Should they play? Absolutely. Are they going to make mistakes? Absolutely. Should we let them play through some mistakes? Absolutely. That’s how they grow. I’m not afraid to play freshmen. These guys are very, very talented, and they will have to learn right away and I’m excited about that. “

Illini certainly intends to add another backfield piece (maybe two), but a big question is whether it will include a veteran ball dealer / facilitator. The Illini Inquirer asked Underwood on Wednesday if he sees it as a need.

“I think we’re still evaluating,” he said. “Kofi obviously has a decision to make here in the not too distant future. I think it can change some different things. I’m not feeling bad about our ball handling. I’m not bad about our decision making, even though it’s young. How our team shapes will be determined a bit by Kofi’s presence or lack of the same, depending on what we have. I am very excited about Dain Dainja and what he is capable of and brings to us. To find a front line piece if (Kofi) is not here, to find a shooter if he is here – all these things come into play. It’s still an inaccurate science based on what guys’ decisions are, but we’re actually recruiting all positions right now. ”

Clark and Epps are ball handling guards. Underwood also mentioned that Harris and freshmen Ty Rodgers are also skilled traders. Going forward, we could see RJ Melendez and Coleman Hawkins make more games with the ball in their hands too.

That said, there is a lot to like about the Texas transfer Courtney Ramey and his potential fit. St. Louis natives could give Illini a veteran presence in the backcourt with the ability to facilitate, make catch-and-shoot threes and defend. Illinois showed immediate interest in Ramey when he hit the portal earlier this month.

Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon Jr. has also garnered a significant amount of enthusiasm from the fan base. 6-foot-6 guard / wing is an explosive athlete who can chop to the hoop, shoot spot-up threes and defend big perimeter players. Shannon and Ramey both signed up for the 2022 NBA Draft, so they might want to take their time.

The Illins have also shown interest in Nahiem Alleyne (Virginia Tech) and Jarod Lucas (Oregon State) as portal options. Both are off-guards in the 6’3 “, 6’4” range, who have three years of experience behind them. They are also plus-shooters at a distance. Illini assistant Chester Frazier recruited Alleyne to Blacksburg when he was an assistant at the Hokies, so it’s definitely one to watch.

Leave a Comment