Illinois Basketball: Giorgi Bezhanishvili is still a key player for the Illini

Illinois basketball forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili will have to adjust to a new role, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be as important.

Giorgi has become an instant Fighting Illini fan favorite – and for a good reason. He came onto the scene in 2018 as a freshman and averaged 12.5 points per game. Not only was he electric on the court, but he is often seen smiling and showing off his dance moves off the court.

I personally got to see Giorgi at the State Farm Center in 2019, where he put up 35 points against Rutgers in a  thrilling overtime win. He became an instant favorite of mine, too.

It was clear from his freshman season that Giorgi was a special player with many talents. However, the 2019-2020 campaign posed a new challenge for the Georgia native when freshman big man, Kofi Cockburn, came in as the true Illini center.

This addition shifted the dynamic of how Giorgi played, and it seemed he never got into a groove. I still believe he will play a huge role for the Illini this upcoming season, but things will look a little different moving forward.


When Giorgi arrived at Illinois as a freshman, he was a three-star recruit. He learned Brad Underwood’s offense very quickly and instantly became a key part of the team. Because of the lack of size Illinois had, he transitioned to be the team’s center. Giorgi has noted that he played forward most of his career and center wasn’t his natural position, though.

Despite going up against the likes of Big Ten centers such as Bruno Fernando, Nick Ward, and Ethan Happ, Giorgi played over 26 minutes per game while averaging 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in the time he received.

The freshman held his own and looked very comfortable playing center. We got to see the grit that Giorgi had as he learned and adjusted to Big Ten basketball at the No. 5 spot.


With the addition of Kofi, Bezhanishvili was no longer acting as the “big man”. Instead, he acted more of a “true” forward and ate up minutes when Cockburn was on the bench. There was a clear shift in his play and Illini fans noticed he was not the same player as the prior season. He ended up averaging 6.8 points per game, but the rebounds stayed roughly the same at 4.8 per game.

The biggest difference, to me, was the spike in assists. In 2018-19, Giorgi averaged 0.8 assists, but that number doubled to 1.6 assists per game last season. To me, this was more indicative than any other stat that shows the shift in roles from big man to role player.

The transition also dropped Giorgi’s field goal shooting to 42.9-percent in 2019-20 from 54.2-percent in 2018-19. This can be partially attributable to him being able to take less inside shots and getting less inside feeds.

Outlook for 2020-21

Giorgi played better down the stretch last season, but due to COVID-19, the season was cut short. I do think Giorgi will end up playing a 6th man role for the Illini this season, ultimately sharing time with Da’Monte Williams.

My colleague Rees, also believes Giorgi will play backup to Da’Monte. I think we see more of a “role player” made out of Giorgi this upcoming season as I believe his defense and energy are his greatest assets.

While Illini fans might have to get used to not hearing his name in the starting lineup, Giorgi will play a huge role in the upcoming season. With two seasons of experience under his belt and a full season playing with Kofi, I think Giorgi will be more comfortable than ever.

In a Big Ten conference full of talent, the Illini can leverage their depth over opponents and Giorgi will be one of the first lines of defense Brad Underwood will go to when his team is looking for a spark.

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Giorgi is an extremely driven player who does not back down from a challenge. I believe having him on the bench speaks more to the amazing depth the Illini have rather than Giorgi’s ability to play. I am extremely excited to see how he adjusts this season, and I fully expect him to improve and build upon his sophomore campaign.