The Fighting Illini Fastbreak: Transfer Portal and Recruiting Update

- Sports

by Drew Hackler


It’s no secret to anyone following men’s college basketball that the transfer portal has almost completely washed away any sense of loyalty left in the sport. For the majority of the top teams competing at the high major D1 level, the transfer portal has become the main source of recruiting, rather than recruiting kids out of high school. The reasoning for this is actually pretty simple. Teams have found more success playing older, more mature, and more experienced college basketball players out of the transfer portal in comparison to incoming freshmen.

This trend has become increasingly apparent for a team just down the road from Naperville in Champaign: the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Illini are coming off a 29-9 season, winning the BIG TEN Conference Title, and making it back to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005. The historic run was fueled by production from players like Terrance Shannon Jr., Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier, Dain Dainja, and Justin Harmon, none of whom began their careers with the Illini, and none of whom will be returning to the Illini next season.

You don’t have to be an Illini expert to know that they have big shoes to fill. The Illini are losing their top scorer, Terrance Shannon, Jr., who clocked in at 23 points per game and broke the single-season scoring record of 668 points by Don Freeman by tallying 736 points, despite missing six games. They’re also losing their top rebounder Quincy Guerrier, their leader in assists Marcus Domask, and the only four-year guy on the team and leader in blocked shots and steals Coleman Hawkins.

Not to mention four key Illini have entered the transfer portal, three of whom have already committed elsewhere. Those players are Dain Dainja (Memphis), Sencire Harris (West Virginia), Amani Hansberry (West Virginia), and most recently Luke Goode (uncommitted). So, as of right now, the only scholarship players returning from last year’s team are Ty Rodgers, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, and Niccolo Moretti.

Now, with all that said, I think the Illini are going to be all right. Coach Brad Underwood and his staff are dominating the transfer portal as they are accustomed to doing. According to 247Sports, the Illini currently have the eighth-ranked transfer class after picking up a four-star point guard and Champaign native Kylan Boswell, as well as a six-foot, seven-inch wing from Louisville, Tre White. The Illini have also acquired a six-foot, six-inch sharpshooter from Mercer, Jake Davis, and a 6-foot-10, 203-pound forward from Notre Dame, Carey Booth. The Illini are replacing length with length and adding a true point guard to the mix with Boswell, which will add a dynamic that last year’s team was missing.

Along with the transfers, the Illini are also bringing in the top high school player in the state of Illinois, six-foot, nine-inch Freshman Morez Johnson of Thornton Township High School. According to 247Sports, Johnson is the highest-rated freshman recruit in the history of the program, beating out players like Ayo Dosunmu and Meyers Leonard. The final confirmed incoming player is a six-foot, ten-inch freshman Jason Jakstys from Yorkville. Jakstys is the number four player-ranked high school player in Illinois. Having watched both Johnson and Jakstys’ highlight tapes, I think Johnson can walk into Champaign and be a contributor while Jakstys may need a year or two to work with strength coach Adam Fletcher to fill in his body.

So, what does all of this mean? Can the Illini win 20+ games again and compete for a conference title? Or is it the end of an era? My answer to this is that the Illini can compete as one of the top teams in the Big Ten again; they’ve done it for four straight seasons. Underwood is the winningest coach in the Big Ten over the last half-decade. However, I believe this team’s success still lies within the transfer portal. Can they win 20 games with this roster? Yes. Can they win 27 or 29? I don’t think so, at least not right now. I think the Illini still need to pick up three or four more pieces from the portal, and in terms of who those guys may be, your guess is as good as mine.

However, one thing I do know is that the Illini will have talent, size, length, and more Illinois native players than any Illinois team in recent memory coming in from the transfer portal. To me, that sounds like a recipe for success.

Play Cover Track Title
Track Authors