Watch now: Assessing Illinois basketball’s needs in the transfer portal and recruiting trail | Illini
CHAMPAIGN — It’s transfer portal season in college basketball, which means most teams are going through roster turnover.
Illinois is experiencing it just like any other program, with guard Andre Curbelo entering the transfer portal. Kofi Cockburn is yet to announce his decision to whether he’ll pursue a pro career or come back to college for a fourth year of eligibility.
With the losses of Trent Frazier, Alfonso Plummer and Da’Monte Williams, the team will have three new starters at guard. Cockburn’s decision looms large, as well as Jacob Grandison deciding whether to take his COVID year or not.
Illinois currently has a scholarship open, and with players likely to announce their intentions in the coming weeks, that number should grow.
Here are some of the main needs facing Illinois and possibilities for filling those.
Guards, guards, guards
The Illinois player returning who spent the most time playing “point guard” last season is Coleman Hawkins, who filled that role in small portions last year when the team was ravaged with injuries and illness. The main lead guards in Frazier and Curbelo will be elsewhere next season, so the team needs an immediate fill in there.
There could be an answer on the horizon — the Illini are squarely in the mix for five-star point guard Skyy Clark, who put Illinois in his top six with Maryland, Louisville, USC, Tennessee and Washington. Illinois had an in-home visit in late March and was the only school to do so, according to 247sports’ Travis Branham.
Clark will visit Illinois before making a decision in April.
Another option at lead guard in the transfer portal is Jeremiah Williams. Williams is a two-year starter at Temple from the Chicago area. He played at Simeon and St. Laurence High School and for the Chicago AAU team Meanstreets, where Illinois assistant Tim Anderson used to be the program director.
At 6-foot-5, Williams adds size to the backcourt; Illinois’ only guard with good size was RJ Melendez and he fits in better at a wing spot. Guards in the recruiting class like Jayden Epps (6-foot-2) or possibly Clark, who is 6-foot-3, would need bigger players with them in the rotation.
Williams also has starting experience in the American Conference — one of the best outside the Power 5.
Lead guard isn’t the only Illini need, with Plummer and Williams also departing. A transfer option makes sense for a wing player.
Illinois has been linked with two players with Power 5 starting experience in those areas. Brandon Murray, a freshman from LSU, and Texas Tech wing Terrence Shannon (a Chicago native) are both strongly linked to Illinois.
Shannon played for Mac Irvin Fire in AAU, but was recruited to DePaul when Anderson was there before eventually going to Texas Tech. He was a starter for most of his three years with the Red Raiders and is considering Illinois with Kentucky and a return to Texas Tech among other schools.
Murray and Shannon both give Illinois the element of a secondary slasher in the offense that was lacking last season. Illinois didn’t have players to attack closeouts or drive to the basket consistently out of pick-and-rolls besides, at times, Curbelo and Frazier.
Murray and Shannon likely won’t be primary ball handlers, but they would give Illinois players who will be able to put more pressure on the defense with the ball in their hands than previous wings.
Big man depth
This one is very conditional upon Cockburn. He could still decide to stay with Illinois, and that will again mean he is the centerpiece of the team and again will be a national player of the year contender.
If he decides to leave, there would be a big hole to fill. Omar Payne and Benjamin Bosmans Verdonk could likely find more playing time elsewhere if they chose to. Neither of them played consistent minutes and Illinois struggled at the backup five spot late in the season.
Baylor transfer Dain Dainja is an unknown commodity after sitting out lsat season and could be a factor as well.
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