March 23 Illinois basketball chat

March 23 Illinois basketball chat

Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 2:00pm

Will Brad Underwood win at Illinois? How did Josh Whitman pull this off? What do returning players and recruits think of the new hire? How is his contract laid out? Why did Oklahoma State let him get away? Beat writer Scott Richey is ready to handle any and all of your questions in his 3 p.m. chat on Thursday. Feel free to submit any ahead of time.

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Good afternoon everybody. I'm still coming to you live from Orlando after Illinois' NIT quarterfinal loss to Central Florida last night. In fact, today's chat is taking place at Orlando International Airport as I wait for my return flight to Illinois. It's been a pretty full 36 hours, but all I have to do at the moment is answer your Illini basketball questions.

Let's get to it ...

Anonymous User wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Now that we have our next Coach, great pickup AD Whitman...what are the chances we add to the class that is projected next year? With Tilmon, Pickett, Williams, Frazier # 11, do we get Smith and is there any chance a kid like Bruninga who is starting to get looks from Valpo/Vandy, gets an offer (even redshirt possibility)?

 

Really excited that Whitman is assembling the pieces to return the ILLINI to the level of relevancy that us fans have been craving since o'.....2005 or so!!!

 

Great job with the chat, thanks for the avenue for us fans!

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Anonymous,

Glad you enjoy the chats. It's always interesting to see what the fans are thinking about.

Considering Illinois has two open scholarships, I would say it's possible the Illini add another player to the incoming 2017 class. That could be Mark Smith. He has real interest in Illinois as a school and basketball program, but the Illini aren't his only suitors. He has a dozen other high major offers, including Missouri. Since he was once a Mizzou baseball commit, you have to think he at least liked the campus and university. The fact Cuonzo Martin is a metro east guy maybe helps the Tigers, too. We'll see.

If Illinois does add a 2017 recruit, I think it would be the only one. Using both open scholarships on 2017 guys leaves zero for 2018. Plus, Illinois could probably use a little help from players that could get on the court right away — graduate transfer in the form of a big man or a scoring wing. That would fill immediate need and leave a little more flexibility moving forward. Taylor Bruninga saw his stock skyrocket in this senior season, but I don't know that I see a spot for him at Illinois with the above conditions.

 

Anonymous User wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

So we've now got a coach for the men's basketball team. How about the open coaching position for our women's basketball team? With the elite talent coming through the Illinois high school ranks and the facilities we have, our women should be a top 25 team every year just as our men should be! And since Whitman was reported to have had a $25 mil allowance to commit to a head coach for the men, and gave $18 mil to Underwood, how about he turns over that remaining $7 mil to attract a top of the line women's coach?

What names are on the list of candidates for the women's coaching position and when will this position get filled? I think Kelly Bond-White--Illinois alumna and longtime Texas A&M assistant--has to be at or near the top of the list.

Always look forward to your chats! Thanks again, Scott!

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Anonymous,

The perils of having a chat open for questions for several days before it actually starts in earnest. Illinois hired former Washington University of St. Louis coach Nancy Fahey as its new women's basketball coach. You can read more about her here.

Thanks for the question, though, and maybe next week we don't preempt you if you ask another. 

Anonymous User wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

A mystery to which we will never know the answer: had Jawun Evans elected to come to Illinois instead of Oklahoma State, would John Groce still be in Champaign and Underwood in Stillwater, and would Underwood have had the success to warrant a pay raise anywhere? Jawun will forever haunt this Illini fan (and Groce fan: I really was rooting for him).

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Anonymous,

Hypothetical "What if?" scenarios are always interesting to ponder. I'm not sure what the final outcome would have been had Jawun Evans picked Illinois, but I feel pretty certain a point guard of his caliber would have led to more wins. Extrapolate from that what you will. Just think of all those games where Malcolm Hill was shouldering a tremendous load (like last night against UCF). Evans would have made for a nice 1-2 combo.

I don't think an Evans-less Oklahoma State would have kept Brad Underwood from ultimately being successful. He showed he can win — a lot — at Stephen F. Austin. Maybe his next job and pay raise wouldn't have come as fast.

Green Shirt wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Reports state that Coach Underwood's son Tyler, who played for his dad at SFA and OKST, is a Red Shirt Freshman who will transfer to Illinois.  Did Tyler play last year for the Cowboys or was he forced to sit-out the year after the transfer from SFA?  If he did sit last year, would he, as a walk-on, be immediately eligible at Illinois?  As I recall, any walk-on who does not play the previous season has the ability to transfer and be immediately eligible ONCE.

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Green Shirt,

Tyler Underwood is indeed transferring to Illinois to play for his dad and a third different school in three years. From the way I've read the NCAA rules on walk-ons who transfer, I don't think he would be eligible immediately. He got a medical redshirt his first year at Stephen F. Austin after tearing his ACL as a high school senior. He then appeared in 11 games this past season at Oklahoma State, which, I think, uses up his one-time transfer exception unless the medical redshirt changes the situation. I'll try and get a firmer answer.

ChiTown Illini wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Hi Scott, thanks for the weekly chats, they are a great source of information.  I have several questions for today.

 

First, is it just me, or do you think that Josh Whitman overpaid by paying $3 million a year for a coach with basically the same resume as the last two coaches that Illinois hired (and later fired) - a couple years of success as a head coach at a lower level coaching players primarily recruited by someone else?  To me $3M per year is Izzo or Matta type money.  The fact that the same coach was hired only a year ago by OSU for $1M per year suggests to me that he (or someone with similar experience) could have been hired for less.  Maybe Coach Underwood will be the savior that everyone wants, but maybe U of I will be going through the same exercise again four or five years from now - and paying yet another coach milliions not to work.  

 

Second, how much does U of I still owe Coach Groce?

 

Third, with regard to the NIT, why couldn't U of I have figured out some way to host the next game at another nearby facility - Springfield, Parkland, Tolono Unity gym, anyplace where Illini fans could actually attend the game and we would have some kind of home court advantage?  ADs must think about these kinds of problems beforehand, right?

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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ChiTown Illini,

Thanks for the kind words and for plenty of questions. Always appreciated.

Brad Underwood's six-year deal did feature an extensive pay raise. In fact, his first-year salary of $2.75 million will rank him third among Big Ten coaches from this past season's numbers. Only Tom Izzo ($4.15 million) and John Beilein ($2.84 million) ranked higher. 

From my understanding, Underwood's $1 million first year at Oklahoma State was agreed upon with the idea that if the Cowboys won this season the deal would be renegotiated. They did win. It wasn't renegotiaed. Oklahoma State was also in a bind financially — with basketball at least — because of the, let's say odd, deal it had with Travis Ford where he got a 10-year extension after one season.

Illinois' $18 million total deal with Underwood is a serious financial commitment, but there were reports Illinois was willing to go much higher on a per-year and total compensation basis. We won't know if Underwood's deal was a steal or the opposite until a couple years in.

John Groce received $1.7 million in compensation when he was fired.

The Broadway show that sent Illinois to Orlando this week was scheduled a year-plus in advance I believe. I know some other NIT games were held at off-campus facilities. Houston played Akron across town at Texas Southern since the Cougars' arena was under construction. 

Illinois didn't know it would be playing UCF until Monday night, so it's not like Houston's first-round situation, but maybe something could have been planned for the eventuality? Home court advantage definitely helped UCF last night.

Illini Basketball Fan wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Scott -

What's your initial take on Whitman's anticipated hire of Nancy Fahey, new UI bb women's coach? Why would she take this job with being so entrenched at WA University for so many years and nearing the years of eventual retirement? Is this a short-term bandaid? I guess we'll find out when the actual press conference comes out.  Thoughts?

Thanks!

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Illini Basketball Fan,

I'll share here what I did last night on the Illini pregame rado show with Steve Kelly and Loren Tate. 

There's no questioning Nancy Fahey has been overwhelmingly successful in her coaching career. At any level, 700-plus wins and five national championships is a big deal. I don't know much about the Wash U. program — or Division III women's hoops for that matter — but to win that much Fahey, in my opinion, has to be a good Xs and Os coach, too. 

After 31 seasons at one program, I suppose I was a little surprised Fahey would move on to something different, but maybe she was looking for a new challenge. She had accomplished it all at D-III. The most important thing for her, I believe, will be the coaching staff she puts together. Recruiting is a different animal at the D-I level. The right assistants can help in that regard in addition to what Fahey does on the recruiting trail.

Anonymous User wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

On the recruiting front, there is a lot of talk (on the forums) about whether Edwardsville HS senior point guard Mark Smith will sign with the Illini. I am curious about a different prep point guard: Amauri Hardy from the state of Michigan. According to the recruiting sites, he gave a verbal commit to Oklahoma State but did not sign a letter of intent.

My question: what goes on now between Hardy and the former Oklahoma State coaches? I imagine one of the OSU assistants would have been active in his recruitment and developed a relationship with the player, and that assistant now might be unsure of his next job!

I know you don't have a lot of time or space to write about it in this chat, but would you mind giving me a short breakdown now and consider a longer piece after the season about the experiences of assistant coaches and prep players--both signed and unsigned--while the coaching carousel spins?

Thanks and here's hoping for an Illini win tonight! Enjoy Orlando!

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Anonymous,

Did some googling on Amauri Hardy because I wasn't exactly following his recruitment, but it appears he's still committed to Oklahoma State and waiting to see what shakes out with the Cowboys' coaching situation. There aren't a ton of open scholarships still available at this point, but you'd have to think Hardy (a 3/4 star prospect) would have some suitors if he opened up his recruitment again. The fact he didn't sign gives him an advantage since he won't have to go through the process of securing a release.

Your story idea merits some thought on my part. I think it could provide a different perspective that's not out there a ton (at least as more of a macro look opposed to how one coaching change affected one player on a micro scale). 

Mr. Cub wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

I went to the game on Monday and was able to sit in the nice seats. I noticed that all the refs were wearing little pager size devices on their belts and wondered what they were. I saw that they were starting the clock with them. How does the clock stop? And who resets the shot clock?

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Mr. Cub,

There are several gentlemen that sit at the scorer's table in between the team benches — part of the gameday crew — that run the clock/shot clock.

Mr. Cub wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Was it possible for someone to tell the Underwood family that they would be a TV a few times during the game on Monday and to leave their phones at home and watch the game?

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Mr. Cub,

The Underwood family sat in a suite behind me, so I obviously didn't spend the game watching them. I'll just say I bet they were watching the game plenty. The ESPN broadcast has several cameras. When there's a break in action, produces choose which camera feed to use. That there was a camera on the Underwood family is no surprise, nor, I'd say, are the shots ESPN chose to use. 

Gregg G wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Any word on how the four commits are leaning since the Underwood hire?  Are you hearing anything on how Mark Smith views the change?  Do you feel Walker will be retained?  St. Louis talk radio has Martin going hard after several of those mentioned above.....of course they carry a strong Mizzou bias.

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Gregg G,

I spoke to Trent Frazier last night at the UCF game and will have more on him in Sunday's N-G (that's the plan at least). He's 100 percent in on the Illini. From an early conversation with Javon Pickett, I have the same feel from him. Jeremiah Tilmon and Da'Monte Williams? Don't know at the moment. Here's the last we had on Mark Smith.

I think Jamall Walker could be retained. I think, beyond his St. Louis ties, he showed why with Illinois' NIT run. He had the team in a good spot despite all that was happening. But it's all up to Brad Underwood. This is his coaching staff, and he'll fill it out as he sees best.

Anonymous User wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

I listened to coach Underwood on the score Tues. and then again last night during the game. I get so tired of coachspeak and cliches. Would it kill coaches, not just Underwood, but most of them, to inject a little bit of personality and humor into their interviews?

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm
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Anonymous,

Coaches are coaches for the most part. They find some tried and true things they believe and like to say and stick with them. Not all coaches, of course. I thought Jamall Walker had some real thoughtful answers and did inject a little humor when he spoke with the media before and after games.

 

Honeywood wrote on March 23, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Scott,

 

Thank you so much for the chats. I really appreciate your insight into the inner workings of my alma mater.

My question is twofold, and I'm certain you'll be shocked, it relates to Coach Underwood.

I don't watch Big 12 basketball on a consistent basis. I can't name a conference game I watched that didn't involve Kansas in years. So how would you compare Underwood's offensive style to other coaches on the national landscape? I hear he brought a lot of efficiency and success to OSU, but I haven't gotten to see what he specifically does.

On a related note, does his style potentially tilt the balance for any '17 or '18 recruits who may not have been on the Illini radar previously?

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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Honeywood,

Thanks for the kind words. 

I didn't watch a ton of Big 12 basketball this season either, and outside of the Oklahoma State-Michigan game in the first round I maybe watched a half here or there of the Cowboys as I flipped between games. I suppose I found myself watching either all Big Ten or ACC games early and Pac-12 games late on nights hoop was on my TV schedule as it were.

But, I can still make a few base comparisons. John Beilein's Michigan offense is maybe the best comp from the Big Ten for what a Brad Underwood team does if I had to go that route. Then maybe Villanova (Jay Wright), Oregon (Dana Altman) and Arizona (Sean Miller). The kind of ground floor definition of Underwood's offense is "pace and space" but if a shot's not there early in the shot clock his teams typically don't force things.

Defensively, because of his influences, think a cross between Frank Martin and Bob Huggins. Maybe not fullly schematically similar, but that same type of intensity.

Not sure I'd be much help on your second question. My following of recruiting is the top prospects (out of curiosity) and guys Illinois is either in on or might be in on.

Zekiah Swamp wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Unless I missed it, I heard/saw no mention last night by the typically perceptive Dan Dakich or this morning in the N-G articles about Thorne and Nichols not playing.  From the recording of the Jamall Walker post-game press conference it was apparent that something transpired that lead to the two not playing.  Is it possible that the ESPN crew intentionally ignored this situation?  I commend Coach Walker for his decision and hope that Brad Underwood is able to keep him on board.

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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Zekiah Swamp,

I asked Jamall Walker about his shorter-than-usual seven-man rotation and the fact Kipper Nichols did not play specifically since he'd been in the rotation since January. You can read what he said here. I can't speak for ESPN.

Kid Rock wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm

 

  Scott,   Now that the season is in the books for us, how soon should we see Underwood's staff get assembled? What's your take on whether or not he retains Walker? If recruits leave & others tranfer, he could be able to put together a roster that fits his scheme much sooner than anticipated, don't you think? Do you still feel good about Smith coming here? There should be lots more to discuss at this time next week, wouldn't you think?  Keep up the great work.

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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Kid Rock,

I think Brad Underwood will get his staff finished sooner rather than later — especially since the April evaluation period is coming up. There's recruiting to do. 

I honestly don't know if Underwood will retain Jamall Walker. I shared why he might (in short, St. Louis recruiting ties and the job he did as interim coach) in a previous answer. I probably feel the same — as in unsure — about Mark Smith. 

No matter who fills out the staff or how the 2017 recruiting class ultimately shapes up, I think the first year could still be an adjustment period. Underwood's system is much different than John Groce's, and there's some key players to replace — namely, Malcolm Hill. The fact Underwood will have roughly the same team for two straight years, though, isn't a bad thing. That gives him and the players time to build a really solid base for the program moving forward under his direction.

Anonymous User wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Scott:

Would you like to look into your crystal ball and see who will be on Coach Underwood's staff next year? How will the recruits fit into the coach's system and will they stick with the program?  What happens with Mark Smith?

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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Anonymous,

You're asking me to look into my crystal ball? Bold move considering its relative haziness. But I'll give you one name I sort of guess will be on Brad Underwood's Illinois coaching staff ... Lamont Evans. 

Evans and Underwood spent five years coaching together at Kansas State and South Carolina, and Underwood brought him to Oklahoma State this past season. 

I think Trent Frazier could be a good fit for Underwood's system. Just look at what Underwood did with a scoring point guard like Jawun Evans at Oklahoma State. Da'Monte Williams and Javon Pickett as athletic wings should be a good fit, too. As far as Jeremiah Tilmon goes, who can't find a use for a skilled five-star (or four-star depending on which site you prefer) big man?

Mark Smith will pick a college basketball program and play for them. Beyond that, at this moment, I don't know.

Anonymous User wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm

As we put this roller coaster of a season to rest, any word on the schedule for next year, besides the New Mexico St game at the UC?  Thanks as always for keeping us informed throughout the season.

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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Anonymous,

Nope, nothing new schedule wise. Next year's nonconference games will sort of just pop up throughout the spring and summer. We'll keep you informed here at IlliniHQ.com as that happens.

jnett wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Scott, 

How do you see the Walker/recruits situation unfolding? There is a bunch of rumors on both. Like Mizzou and Illinois will pay hefty for walker. Rumors that Tilmon is very noncommittal at this point and that Devonte doesn't want to play with Smith if we get him. 

So, what have you heard and how do you think this will all pan out?

 

Thanks for your great coverage of the Illini. 

Justin 

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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Justin,

Considering Scout's Derek Piper just reported Jamall Walker is staying at Illinois as I'm getting ready to board my flight back to Illinois, I say I see it playing out like that. I imagine that could stop the Jeremiah Tilmon uncertainty. Don't know about Da'Monte Williams. He's publicly said he's going to evaluate the whole new situation. We'll learn more about that shortly I'd presume once Brad Underwood gets his in-person visits with the 2017 class wrapped up.

Big Dave wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I saw John Groce's name mentioned in a list of candidates for the head coaching job at Dusquene University in Pittsburgh. Any other rumors out there as to where he might land? Any movement on the Jamall Walker situation? And, any new information on Kipper Nichols and some of the other guys who didn't play last night? Minor thing or a bigger deal than first reported?

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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Big Dave,

I also saw John Groce being mentioned as a possibility at Dusquene. Latest news on that job I saw is Vermont's coach turning it down. There's the expected Groce to Cleveland State rumor, but Miami (Ohio) also needs a coach. As far as Jamall Walker, Scout's Derek Piper has reported he's staying at Illinois.

All I know about Kipper Nichols and guys that didn't play last night is what Walker said after the game. Something happened internally, it was dealt with and he decided not to play some guys. 

Red Grange wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Many Illini fans seem to want to keep Jamall Walker as an assistant coach. With the firing of Groce, why wouldn't all of his assistants also be fired? Groce and his staff have consistently missed out on the top high school talent around the country. Walker should be just as responsible for those misses as Groce. Also, do you see Lamont Evans coming with Underwood to Illinois? I think he would be a great addition.

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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Red Grange,

All of John Groce's assistants won't be fired since Jamall Walker has been retained by Brad Underwood. I think that decision was three-fold. One, Walker has ties to an important recruiting area. Two, Underwood said he was impressed with what Walker accomplished as interim coach. Three, Underwood has known Walker for a long time. There's a relationship there.

I do see Lamont Evans joining Underwood's staff at Illinois since he went out and hired him away from South Carolina this past season at Oklahoma State. They have history, too, having coached under Frank Martin together at Kansas State and South Carolina.

Scott Richey wrote on March 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm
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That's it for today's chat. Thanks to everyone that submitted questions this week. Now, it's time for me to head home. Illinois here I come.

The chat returns next week at its usual time and date (Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.). Probably.

Until then, enjoy the rest of week!