Miller & Curbelo becomes a reality in a few hours, presuming everybody’s saliva stays COVID-free as it was today. All the multi-team eventers are in town, tested and negative (so far). So here’s my version of the pre-season write-up.
Despite unanswerable questions regarding unseen players, we know a lot about the 2021 Illini. It’s still the Ayo & Kofi show. Da’Monte Williams remains the Dirty Worker. Trent might connect on a higher percentage of threes this season. Giorgi might adjust to the four spot.
Coach Underwood’s interest in spreading the floor, establishing a hi-lo game, and passing/shooting over shorter opponents has grown since last year. It’s why he recruited Coleman Hawkins and Luke Goode. Thus, the current state of Illini Basketball should recall turn of the century teams moreso than the Flyin’ Illini, or the Deron-Dee experience.
What role will the newcomers play? I’ve read a lot of speculation about these new guys. You’ve read the same things. I don’t know if I learned anything.
I write only about first-hand experiences, and I’ve never seen any of the new Illini play an actual live game. Practices and hype videos don’t tell me much. Will anyone bring the tenacity lost when Andres Feliz matriculated?
Feliz kept Illinois in games when Kofi was neutralized and Ayo was off. That Minnesota game, pictured above, was a prime example.
Can Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo fight like Dre fought? That’s what I’m eager to see. The Illini were not great last year. They were improving. It’s comparable to the 2004 version of Deron-Dee. Lots to be embarrased about, but coming together at the end. And you know what happened the year after that.
An ongoing confusion, for me, is the conflation of Hutcherson and Grandison. Presumably it’s the shared Scandinavian patronymic. People meld the two. In written accounts, they’re interchangeable. That’s weird. Hutcherson is tiny, and seemingly breakable. Grandison has a man’s body. One is a forward. The other is a guard.
I’ve never had a conversation with Hutcherson. He’s a nearly blank slate for me. All I know is that he’s really skinny, and when people quote Underwood as saying he’s the best athlete on the team, they should remember that Underwood described Mark Smith as having “it” and “the It factor” about a week before saying Da’Monte Williams had “it” and “whatever It is.”
Here’s a Zoom with Austin from September. I wasn’t on the call. I’m watching it for the first time, too.
Jacob is the son of high-achieving academics, and he speaks like a graduate student. Because he’s 6’6″ and swole, you want to envision him on the wing, knocking opponents to the ground with a solid screen before slipping to the arc and draining threes. Because he’s not as tall as a typical 4, I’ll be curious to see his rebounding technique.
Austin is known as a shooter, and he says he’s gained 10-15 lbs. since arriving last year. Because he’s been out with back spasms, and won’t play in the MTE, he’s the obvious Enigma of the ’21 Illini.
The recently sung, formerly undersung freshman is Coleman Hawkins. Earlier today, Underwood expressed surprise that Hawkins is already solidifying his role on the wing. Despite Coleman’s assertion that he’s NOT A POINT GUARD, that judgment is really up to you. Was Earvin Johnson a point guard? What is a point guard?
Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, like Hutcherson, will sit out the MTE. So you’re likely to see Hawkins and Grandison early and often, probably feeding Kofi from the top of the key.
But none of these guys is likely to start. Unless Underwood keeps his promise of picking names from a hat, it’ll be five familiar faces when the ball goes up Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Here we go. It begins.