The new-look Illini | Sports | #sports | #elderly | #seniors
The 2021-22 Illinois basketball roster has a chance to look much different than it did last season. In fact, it already does. Ayo Dosunmu is off to the NBA. Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili are also pursuing their professional dreams. Questions still linger over whether Da’Monte Williams will take advantage of a bonus year of eligibility, and Adam Miller is in the transfer portal. Beat writer Scott Richey catches you up on what’s happened
since the Illini’s second-round NCAA tournament exit with a primer on Brad Underwood’s new-look team:
Redshirt sophomore forward Lommel, Belgium
- Leg and feet injuries have derailed Bosmans-Verdonk’s Illinois career in successive seasons. First by robbing him of most of his freshman year and then setting him back enough last season to not be a factor. What hasn’t changed is the 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward looks every bit the part of a Big Ten power forward. Will he ever get the chance to prove it?
Sophomore guard Vega Baja, Puerto Rico
- The bar is set rather high for Curbelo after earning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2020-21. The 6-1, 175-pound point guard will have an expanded role this coming season as he takes the keys to the Illinois offense full-time. He’s already shown his creative nature on the offensive end along with an ability to get to the rim on command. Showing off a dependable three-point shot will round out his skill set.
Senior guard Wellington, Fla.
- Which Frazier Illinois gets in 2021-22 is the intriguing part of his decision to take advantage of his bonus year of eligibility and return for a fifth season. He adapted to a more complementary — yet still meaningful — role the past three seasons. Will he reprise it or tap back into the bigger offensive threat he was as a freshman? Either way, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors are on the table.
Freshman guard Fort Wayne, Ind.
- Goode got the most out of his final year in high school. Not only did he help lead his team to a stellar season, but his sole focus on basketball after being a two-sport standout helped elevate his game. Plenty of that had to do with his commitment to a strength and conditioning program, as the 6-foot-7, 200-pound guard bulked up — in a good way — to be more than just a shooter. (But he’s still a good shooter).
Redshirt senior Oakland, Calif.
- Does a hustle play need to be made? Count on Grandison to make it happen. That’s the kind of spark he added to Illinois’ starting lineup midway through the 2020-21 season, and a reprisal of his “do everything — especially the little things” role is likely heading into next year. His ability to rebound and knock down open jump shots will definitely secure meaningful playing time for the 6-6, 205-pound wing.
Sophomore forward Sacramento, Calif.
Scouting report: There’s some real “X-factor” vibes heading into the 2021-22 season. After playing somewhat sparingly as a freshman, a greater opportunity exists now that Giorgi Bezhanishvili
- has decided to pursue a professional basketball career. What makes the 6-10, 215-pound Hawkins unique is the fact there is no player like him on the Illinois roster given his size and skill set (epitome of a stretch 4).
Redshirt senior guard New York
- Imagine what Illinois might have accomplished with a healthy Hutcherson in 2020-21. You can never have too many shooters. But healthy, he was not. A back injury cost him the entire season. While he’s never played at the Division I level — he played two seasons at DIII Wesleyan (Conn.) — his overall experience (not to mention athleticism and, yes, shooting) could be a difference-maker given the youth of the other Illini wings.
Sophomore center Deerfield
Scouting report: Illinois will almost assuredly add another big man to its 2021-22 roster with Jermaine Hamlin opting to transfer and Kofi Cockburn’s stay-or-go status unclear. That simply gives Lieb more time, which he needs. He has the one thing you can’t teach — being 7 feet tall — but he needs to take advantage of his offseason in the weight room with Adam Fletcher
- and keep improving his potentially versatile skill set.
Ramses “RJ” Melendez
Freshman guard Arecibo, Puerto Rico
- Melendez provides exactly what the Illinois coaching staff was looking for in recruiting the Class of 2021 — a versatile wing with size (6-7, 195). Also length. Lots of it. And some real bounce. Of the three incoming freshman, the all-stater out of Florida is the one to expect to play above the rim the most, but he shares that one vital characteristic with his fellow newcomers as a shooter, too.
Edgar Padilla Jr.
Sophomore guard Carolina, Puerto Rico
Scouting report: Padilla is part of a rather unique collection of Illinois point guards given his Puerto Rican roots just like Curbelo, newcomer Alfonso Plummer
- and even Frazier. The sophomore walk-on has international experience and a Division I pedigree given his dad played on the 1994 UMass Final Four team. His key role? Running with the scout team in practice to push his teammates.
Junior forward Kissimmee, Fla.
Scouting report: Best-case scenario, Payne gives Illinois a pair of former top-50 prospects in the frontcourt should Cockburn decide on another season in C-U. The worst-case scenario isn’t really that bad. The 6-10, 230-pound Florida transfer was limited playing behind Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Colin Castleton
- the past two seasons, respectively, but he fits the Illini’s ball screen-heavy offense and is a legitimate shot blocker.
Freshman guard Muskego, Wis.
Scouting report: The quick, easy comp to make is Tyler Herro — i.e. super dangerous scorer out of Wisconsin. Podziemski at least claimed Mr. Basketball honors (with now-UNLV guard Jordan McCabe beating out Herro AND Tyrese Haliburton
- in 2018). The incoming 6-5, 190-pound guard is a legitimate three-level scorer and, after running the point as a senior, shades a bit more toward combo guard than pure wing.
Senior guard Fajardo, Puerto Rico
Scouting report: Adam Miller
- ’s decision to enter the transfer portal resulted in Illinois putting up a “Help Wanted: Shooters preferred” sign. That’s exactly what the Illini got in Plummer, who will end his career in Champaign after two seasons at Arizona Western College and the last two at Utah. There’s some playmaking with the ball in his hands in the transfer guard’s game, but his biggest impact could (will?) come from beyond the arc.
Sophomore forward Bushnell
- Serven fills a rather necessary role for Illinois, bolstering the Illini frontcourt and serving as a key player in practice and on the scout team. Opportunities on game day for the walk-on forward are few and far between, but he does boast a modern big man skill set. He’s an able passer, a solid finisher around the rim and has a growing face-up game away from the basket.
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).