Illinois Basketball: Illini PG Andre Curbelo wows in win over Sierra Canyon

I am not sure there is an Illinois basketball fan who isn’t excited about what the class of 2020 is going to bring this program.

Illinois’ class of 2020 ranks No. 12 in the nation and No. 2 in the Big Ten. According to the rankings, Adam Miller is the best player in the class. He comes in ranked No. 33 in the nation and should be a great No. 2 guard for the Orange and Blue.

Coleman Hawkins is coming in as a great option for the Illini at the No. 4 or No. 5 spot. He has tremendous size – 6-foot-10 – but the recruiting rankings only have him as the No. 153 player in the class of 2020. I wouldn’t be shocked if he stands out for the Illini year one.

Both Miller and Hawkins are going to be big-time contributors for Illinois, but we will need a point guard to lead the way. Thankfully, Brad Underwood and his coaching staff were able to land Andre Curbelo.

Curbelo is a solid 6-foot, 170-pound point guard who is ranked as the No. 54 player in the class of 2020 and the No. 7 point guard in the nation. I knew the kid had talent and was going to be a solid replacement for Ayo Dosunmu once he leaves, but what I saw on Saturday night was something different.

Long Island Lutheran High School went up against the nationally known Sierra Canyon High School program. Curbelo suited up for Long Island Lutheran and, not only did he contribute, but he was one of their superstars in the 84-74 victory over the star-studded Sierra Canyon team.

Curbelo finished the game as the second-leading scorer with 23 points, right behind teammate Zed Key who had 25 points. But this was the first time I had a chance to watch a full game of Curbelo’s and let me tell you, the kid didn’t disappoint.

There were so many things that stood out to me about Curbelo’s game. He was everywhere on the basketball court because he has tremendous hustle and a nose for the ball. His great handles aided him in the ability to make plays and push the ball quickly up the court. This will work well in Underwood’s offense.

I loved Curbelo’s ability to put the ball in the hoop too. He isn’t just a one-dimensional player. This kid can shoot the three-point shot, but his specialty is penetrating the defense and getting into the lane. This is where he is extremely deadly shooting the ball. I am not sure he missed a shot within 12 feet of the basket. His touch in the lane was insane.

Curbelo also displayed his ability for the wow plays. There were multiple times throughout the game that made me say wow out loud. I can remember one play where he was driving on the right side of the lane going just about full speed. In the middle of the drive, he did an accurate behind the back pass to his big man.

Another moment that really stood out to me was when Curbelo was in trouble due to a full-court press. Sierra Canyon had him double teamed roughly 88 feet from his basket. But Curbelo didn’t panic. This kid dribbled, passed the ball between the defender’s legs, went around the defender to get the ball, drove the ball down the lane and hit a floater. It is one of the most impressive plays I have seen in high school.

There is one thing I notice on the negative side, though. Curbelo is an aggressive player and, sometimes, that aggression can get him in trouble. He pushes the ball up the court and it gets stolen. He tries passes that are risky or moves that risky and they don’t pay off. But, if that is the worst thing I can say about his game, then I think he is going to be alright. I would take over aggressive rather than under aggressive every day of the week.

Next: Illini player assessment from the two-game losing streak

When I was watching Curbelo, there was one player that kept coming to mind. He reminds me a lot of Lonzo Ball. He has a high motor, great ability to pass and he is a bulldog. Honestly, though, I think Curbelo has a better shot. I can’t wait to see this kid suit up for the Orange and Blue.

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