The Illinois basketball program landed a top 20 class for 2020, but it is two transfer wings who are raring to go after a redshirt season.
After two years in the Patriot League with Holy Cross, Jacob Grandison made his unforeseen basketball journey even more impressive. Grandison played one season of competitive basketball prior to NCAA basketball and that was one prep year at Phillip Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. Just three years later, he is a rotational piece on a top ten team in the nation in the best conference in college basketball.
In year one at Holy Cross, Grandison put up 9.0 points per game and scored in double figures in 13 outings. In year two, Grandison started every game for the Crusaders and led the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game. The 6-foot-6, 205-pound wing is a career 35-percent three-point shooter with an effective field goal percentage of 52-percent.
Now, how will it translate?
It is evident that Coach Brad Underwood had a goal of adding length and shooting. Wing play has been iffy during Underwood’s tenure in Champaign, lacking depth and shooting consistency. While Grandison does not project as a candidate to score double figures day in and day out, he fits a floor stretching role that can provide stability on both ends.
Austin Hutcherson provides a bit more long term upside, but Grandison is the more likely immediate contributor. A heady wing with capable ball-handling abilities, an intelligent off-ball cutter who racks up easy buckets and the mature frame to guard the No. 2 through No. 4 at the Big Ten level. Grandison can consume the responsibility left by the exit Alan Griffin as a high motor, tough wing who makes the non-box score plays and knocks down shots when asked.
If the roster makeup was what it has been at the beginning of the Underwood era, I would say to manage the expectations for Grandison. His role belongs as a wing threat who can attack closeouts and make the right play, not to pour in points on pull-ups and slashes. He fits the prototypical three-and-d build and appears to be a key bridging piece within the rotation.
Between Da’Monte Williams, Grandison and Hutcherson, the Illini have a solid group of three who can contribute on both ends with varying traits. Last season, the Illini appeared the strongest when playing one pure big in either Kofi Cockburn or Giorgi Bezhanishvili while having Williams play the No. 4 spot with Kipper Nichols and even Griffin mixed in.
Where do I foresee Grandison winding up in this group?
I think Grandison will provide the most consistency on both ends. Williams is an improved shooter, but still has a bit more to prove. Hutcherson should be given time to transition but undeniably provides the most upside.
The addition of Grandison infuses a new layer of versatility that the Illini have been lacking. His ability to compete at the No. 2 through No. 4 spots on both ends can allow for the small-ball lineup or to go big with one of the wings at the No. 3 spot with a mix of Kofi, Giorgi, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Coleman Hawkins at the No. 4 and No. 5 spots.
In the ‘smaller’ lineup, the Illini can roll out Ayo Dosunmu, Adam Miller, Grandison, Williams and Bosmans-Verdonk. Now, that is what we call switch-ability.
Not only does Grandison open a lot of doors for the Illini in terms of versatility, but his success should provide more of a clear path for transfers in the future. The Illini have seen a ton of exile from outgoing transfers, but the success of incoming transfers has been essentially absent.
Development opportunities and long-term stability come much quicker when players have time in the gym and in the system. With the rising number of transfers year in and year out, look for Grandison and Hutcherson to set a strong precedent for future transfers.
It might seem early for this, but Grandison will be a guy who’s production goes under-appreciated. A high-level rebounder for his size, a perimeter threat and an instinctual defender. Grandison will be one of the most productive new faces in the 2020-2021 Illini season.
6.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game