Gone III and Gone IV

Mar 27, 2018

Before I get to the new basketball arrivals (you just know I'm going to work in "Georgie Porgie pudding and pie" somewhere), we need to talk about the departures. Departures #3 and #4 from the team since the end of the season. I wrote about Mark Smith (Gone I) and Leron Black (Gone II) in their own posts - I'll combine Michael Finke and Te'Jon Lucas in same post. Mostly because I'm tired of writing these.

Let's start with where these four departures leave us. As of today:

Seniors - Aaron Jordan
Juniors - Kipper Nichols
Sophomores - Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams, Greg Eboigbodin, Matic Vesel
Incoming Freshmen - Ayo Dosunmu, Alan Griffin, Samba Kane, Georgi Bezhanishivili

In case you missed that, yes, there's one senior and one junior. Two upperclassmen.

You know how I keep writing those football articles that are all "so that's 8 seniors in 2017, 7 seniors in 2018, 11 seniors in 2019, and 32 seniors in 2020"? Well, for basketball, we had one senior in 2017/18, one senior in 2018/19, one senior in 2019/20.....

Yes, we might add some immediately-eligible fifth-year transfers. We had zero seniors entering this season, but we found Mark Alstork last May and he was the one senior this year. Perhaps we'll add two fifth-years and have more than just Aaron Jordan next year. Or perhaps we'll add a juco and then have more than one junior.

But the point remains: 2017, 2018, and 2019 - three very young football teams in a row. And, following those seasons - 2017/18, 2018/19, and 2019/20 basketball, three very young basketball teams in a row. Buckle up.

At this point, I believe this almost has to be intentional. The rebuilds are now too similar to not be planned in this way. These coaches must have been told by their boss that A) the programs they are inheriting are a mess, B) a full-on rebuild is the best way to change the culture of Illini Athletics, and C), they'll get all the time they need.

I'm not saying that players were forced out or encouraged to leave. These things are usually writing on the wall. Tre Watson lost his starting spot to Dele Harding and so he transferred. Te'Jon Lucas lost his starting spot to Trent Frazier (and Ayo is on the way) so he transferred. Sean Adesanya was beat out by the freshman defensive ends - transfer. I've seen it discussed that JCL and DJ Williams took one look at Underwood's practices last spring and transferred.

Whatever it is, on both sides of Kirby Avenue, players are fleeing. New construction has begun. Those photos that were tweeted the other day of the foundations going in for the new football performance center? Yeah, that's about where we're at. "THAT eventually becomes a building?"

I mean, if you look at the fact that Da'Monte Williams and Trent Frazier were both "re-recruited" by Brad Underwood last spring (both announced on Twitter that they had spoken to the new coach and were sticking with their commitment), then there are now only two "John Groce players" left - Aaron Jordan and Kipper Nichols. That's INSANE for a year and a week after the new coach was named.

Remember my Roster Turnover On Steroids post after all of the football departures? With the January departures (Chayce Crouch, Julian Hylton, Jeff George Jr, Henry McGrew), we're now down to 16 Tim Beckman players on the roster. In year three, I'd say Zook (in 2007) and Beckman (in 2014) had between 35 and 40 inherited players on the roster. Lovie has SIXTEEN.


One more stat: a year ago today we were looking at a 2017/18 basketball season with zero seniors. We'd play 32 games (hopefully more), there would be 160 "starts" (five players starting every game), and then we'd return all 160 of those starts for 2018/19. Then we added a grad-transfer who was likely to start (he did, every game), so we knew we would lose some starts. But did we anticipate that we would lose 125 of the 160 starts? Because we just lost 125 of the 160 starts. "It was a 14-18 team so what's the big deal", right? Well, inexperience is inexperience, and this was probably a 10-22 team without Leron Black, so... I'm scared.

The biggest loss of these two, for me, is Michael Finke. I just don't know who starts in the frontcourt next year. To have him there as the bridge between 2019 and 2020 (to give these freshman projects some time to grow) would have been huge. He did average 10 and 5 this year, and with Leron gone would have certainly added to those numbers next season. But now that he's off to another location, well, Kipper and Eboigbodin I guess? A fifth-year transfer of our own?

Like I said above, I think Te'Jon saw writing on the wall. Trent is the man, there's a five-star guard is coming in, and Da'Monte seemed to be Underwood's favorite freshman at times because of his rebounding and defense. That's the go-to backcourt for Te'Jon's final two years of college, so he was looking at being the fourth-man.

But still, this leaves us wildly thin on depth. We're down to six returning players. I'd be willing to bet that of the 351 Division I basketball programs, maybe 345 of them have more than six returning players? Unless you're Kentucky or Duke (and even they struggle to pull it off with all five-stars), college basketball is about experienced players making plays. And we have so very little experience right now.

Which is why I probably feel better about the football rebuild than the basketball rebuild today? Yes, we'll probably land a couple fifth-year transfers this spring who can fill in nicely for Finke and Black and I'll immediately start writing "you know, Trent & Ayo with these two seniors plus contributions from AJ, Kipper, and Da'Monte..." posts. But right now, looking at a scholarship grid, seeing six returning players plus four freshmen, three of which are unknowns, man, the hill looks steep.

So maybe buckle up AND bring a pillow for a long nap. This might take a while.


HiggsBoson on March 30 @ 10:06 PM CDT

Underwood's excuse for being embarrassed in Maui will be all the new players.

Sweetchuck13 on March 28 @ 09:11 AM CDT

It should be interesting to see who else we bring in - more HS recruits, juco, grad transfers? Seems like all options are on the table, so I'm not quite ready to look at the roster and be convinced we're in for a terrible year.

Sure would be nice to get Tevian Jones, and then maybe one more big guy? Is it too much to hope for a random Mike Davis-like find during the summer at a prep school? This would certainly be an ideal year for it.

Groundhogday on March 28 @ 03:53 PM CDT

My sense is the power of rationalization leads fans to underestimate the impacts of these losses on next season. If we can land Ramey, Jones and Caroline (as a grad transfer), then there is still hope for next season. But if we land 3-4 more depth pieces to fill the final slots, next year will be really tough.

alotofpeoplegotoschoolfor7years on March 28 @ 04:31 PM CDT

It's hard for me to get too upset about losing players from a team that went 4-14 in conference. Particularly a stretch 4 that shot 22% from beyond the arc in conference. Can it get worse? Yes, but I personally would rather watch younger guys with any upside than two known quantities that aren't going to lead us to any real glory.

Groundhogday on March 28 @ 05:41 PM CDT

In three seasons, Finke hit 36% of this shots from the arc (106-293). That is good for a big man. Yes, his shooting was down this past season. I'd be willing to bet he will bounce back strong next year.

Bear8287 on March 28 @ 08:57 PM CDT

Yes, I agree on the bouncing. Between his knee and concussion, he wasn’t at 100%.


Joe Edge on March 29 @ 02:54 PM CDT

I would say you're probably correct in that his shooting will bounce back... And I wish him luck wherever he goes. It's probably a case of: We know what we have (in MF) versus the optimistic euphoria of expectations of what might (could) be ... Frankly, I'm in the - how many parts of a 4 win B1G team do you really think are worth keeping - category... In my mind, there aren't very many....

Groundhogday on March 29 @ 07:32 PM CDT

Coaches wanted to keep Finke. He would have helped in the transition, given the young guys a chance to develop, and would probably be better than any 5th year we might acquire. Keeping Finke for another year would also leave a 2019 scholarship open (vs Freshman or Juco). But Finke didn't really enjoy playing for Underwood (often happens with coaching transitions), and didn't want a less prominent role. So he will move on and have a good time playing a major role for another team next year.

Joe Edge on March 29 @ 08:44 PM CDT

Oh, I agree... I had heard that they wanted to keep him, but kinda figured he really didn't like Underwood's style of coaching.... And you're right it happens all the time. I was also thinking that he would have been relegated to a lesser role, and quite naturally didn't want to do that... He was really a JG fan... But its all good. As you say, he'll move on and play a major role for somebody and we'll recruit over him, which we were doing anyway...

HiggsBoson on March 30 @ 09:57 PM CDT

I don't believe that for a minute. Finke was run off.

ATOillini on March 28 @ 09:34 PM CDT

“Yes, but I personally would rather watch younger guys with any upside than two known quantities that aren't going to lead us to any real glory.”

I agree with this statement.

Groundhogday on March 29 @ 07:41 PM CDT

We can't go into the season with no experienced big men. So the loss of Finke means we have to go out and find a 5th year transfer big to fill that role. Will we find a 5th year big as good as Finke? The odds are low, particularly when you consider that a transfer will have to learn the system.

So this isn't a question of young guys vs. more experienced players. It is a question of who will provide some experience inside for next season.

Joe Edge on March 29 @ 08:47 PM CDT

It's going to be a challenge for the staff for sure. I think the next month will show us a lot about this staff, and the near term future of Illini BB....

HiggsBoson on March 30 @ 10:08 PM CDT

They brought in Matic last year, so the sky's the limit!

Lou-a-villini on March 29 @ 08:58 PM CDT

I’m more eager to renew my season fix now. #cleanslate

HiggsBoson on March 30 @ 10:01 PM CDT

All we've seen Underwood excel at so far is running off players. It remains to be seen if he can a) recruit faster than he runs off and/or b) win.

By never keeping players he's always got the excuse that everyone is new every year. It seems to be his plan.

HiggsBoson on March 30 @ 10:05 PM CDT

And the same goes for Lovie, though he's made some recruiting inroads lately. However, if the Illini go 2-10 or 3-9 again, which seems likely, how many of those recruits actually show up on campus. If football and men's and women's basketball are all still floundering after a couple more years, I expect Whitman will be shown the door along with the coaches.

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