CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (BVM) — Since 2019, the Fighting Illini men’s basketball team has been a perennial postseason candidate, and the program looks to continue this successful streak in the upcoming 2022-2023 season.
There are many different factors as to why Illinois has been able to put themselves on the map these past few seasons. One of these factors is head coach Brad Underwood, who has been a major force in ensuring the team’s roster is as good as it can be. Another factor is Illinois’ terrific recruiting program, which has brought in a lot of sought after prospects, such as Kofi Cockburn, Ayo Dosunmu and most recently, Skyy Clark.
These factors have contributed to Illinois being a focal point for basketball success, and Underwood and his coaching staff will look towards the upcoming season for a continuation in this department.
While the Fighting Illini have lost top-level talents such as Cockburn and Dosunmu over the last couple of years, the program still is poised to have a successful 2022-2023 campaign. Losing a star such as Cockburn, who had multiple accolades such as being on the NCAA All-American team, is a tough blow for an organization. However, Underwood and his staff are no strangers to adversity. The season after losing Dosunmu to the NBA, they were still able to make a postseason trip to the NCAA Tournament.
When Underwood first was hired as the Fighting Illini’s head coach, he quickly shaped his roster by recruiting talent and gathering experience with the players in his system. While his first two seasons with Illinois were disappointing, as the team was under .500, he was able to bring in talents such as Dosunmu and Cockburn, who averaged 16.7 and 17.2 points, respectively, for the Fighting Illini in their multi-season careers with Illinois.
Both were also joined by players such as André Curbelo, Alfonso Plummer and Trent Frazier, who were all pivotal pieces for Underwood’s offense.
One of Underwood’s best players for next season will be Coleman Hawkins. The 6-foot-10 big man was very good for Illinois last season. He played 19 minutes per game, which was up from 6.3 minutes his freshman year. During those contests, Hawkins averaged 5.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists. Given how well Hawkins played the previous season for Illinois, it should be no surprise that these numbers will increase next season.
While Underwood will have players such as Luke Goode, R.J. Melendez and Hawkins returning to his roster, he will also have new talents joining his roster in the 2022 class. In addition to Clark, Ty Rodgers, Jayden Epps, and Sencire Harris have signed with Illinois for the upcoming season.
These new talents will be looking to contribute to the Fighting Illini roster in any way they can. While all of these recruits will be great additions to Underwood’s squad, Clark might be one of the best additions Illinois has gotten thus far.
Clark had terrific stats his junior year, averaging 26.4 points and 3.5 assists per game in just 11 contests. His high-level play was one of the reasons Clark became a five-star prospect. While his senior year was one of recovery from an ACL injury, he returned to average 8.5 points and 4.3 assists per game over four contests played. His senior year stats were a smaller sample size, but they show Clark’s tenacity and will to continue playing the sport.
This is exactly what Underwood’s roster will need with losing guards such as Curbelo, Frazier and Plummer. The roster will need guards who can generate offense to be ready when tip-off commences, where the team will look towards their goal of another deep playoff run.