Coming off a porous NCAA tournament performance by what appeared to be a historic Illini roster, Coach Underwood and the Illinois basketball team are now in restructuring mode.
From the information I have gathered thus far, there is a solid-to-strong chance that six or seven out of the Illini’s top 10 statistical producers will not put on the Orange and Blue in 2021-2022.
There remains a lot at play with Kofi Cockburn’s NBA Draft decision, in addition to multiple players weighing their professional as well as transfer options, but the Illini are likely seeking to fill four more scholarships with Omar Payne, Luke Goode and RJ Melendez already in the fold.
The situation remains fluid with new names joining the portal every day and some options being linked behind closed doors only.
Here are the current options from the transfer portal and the recruiting front for the Illinois basketball program.
- Brandin Podziemski
Podziemski’s recruitment is one that Illini fans are a bit more familiar with to this point. Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin has been heavily linked to Kentucky in the past and has a final five of Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Miami and the Illini. At 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, Podziemski is debatably the largest riser of any prospect in the 2021 recruiting cycle.
The Illini fell into some shooting struggles last season and will likely be losing their top four perimeter threats. Podziemski is an explosive scorer who creates space with ease and uses a deadly first step out of the triple threat as a southpaw to catch defenders on their toes.
Podziemski is not a one-and-done type of prospect and will require some time to adjust to the athleticism and physicality of the Big Ten. But he fits the bill of what the Illini are hunting for right now and remains one of the top names available at the prep level.
- Armaan Franklin
Two weeks ago, the Indiana sophomore guard entered his name into the transfer portal after scoring 11 points per game on 43-percent from the field and 42-percent from three-point range.
Franklin is an Indianapolis native and was ranked as a fringe top 150 prospect in the class of 2019 out of Cathedral High School. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Franklin excels in an off-ball role as a secondary handler and a fluid slasher.
As a Hoosier, Franklin had some streaky moments but developed into a 42-percent perimeter shooter in year two after shooting just 27-percent as a freshman. A relentless worker, Franklin has a strong basketball IQ and some quickness to him. Indiana has had a few tumultuous seasons, resulting in the firing of Archie Miller, but Franklin was one of the bright spots for the Hoosiers the last two years.
Franklin’s recruitment as a transfer has been relatively quiet, but he has been linked to the Illini from the jump because he wants to retain a large role on a nationally relevant roster close to home. Brad Underwood and the Illini present that to Franklin. With Ayo Dosunmu, Adam Miller and Trent Frazier moving on, Franklin would be a phenomenal fit next to Andre Curbelo where he can focus on putting the ball in the bucket. It would be no surprise to see Franklin on an All-Big Ten team in the coming years.
- Alfonso Plummer
Former junior college stud at Arizona Western, Plummer made an instant impact at Utah and is seeking a destination to come in and bring point production for a notable program for one year.
The 6-foot-1 guard scored 14 points per game, second-most for the Utes, on 44-percent from the field and 38-percent from three-point range this season. He is a native of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, just an hour ride from the hometown of Illini star guard Andre Curbelo of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.
Curbelo and Plummer are familiar with each other, and assistant coach Orlando Antigua could be a catalyst here as well. Plummer was unraked coming out of JUCO but has high-majors on his tail because of his ability to serve as a microwave scorer and stretch the floor. If Plummer were to bring his talents to Champaign, he could bring similar bench production as Andres Feliz in 2019 and Curbelo in 2020, as shifty slashers with two-way toughness.
- Ty Ty Washington
Washington is one of the most sought-after players in the nation currently, coming off a monster season with Arizona Compass Prep.
The former Creighton commit chose the Bluejays over the Illini after being heavily linked to the Illinois program for a few months. Since then, some dominoes fell in unexpected ways and Washington is back on the market, and the Illini are seeking more guard help than they were prior.
Thanks to the late recruitment, and impressive late-season performances, there is heightened attention for Washington. Since de-committing, Washington has added eight more high major offers and is being heavily linked to Kansas as well as Auburn. The Illini have some work to catch up on, as they missed on Washington to begin with and it will not be getting any easier.
With Ayo Dosunmu headed to the NBA as a future first-round pick, there might not be a better available option to prolong program success for the Illini than Washington. At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Washington scores the ball with ease at all three levels and has begun to flaunt the ability to play both backcourt spots.
Washington began the year as a fringe top 50 prospect in the class of 2021 and is now nationally recognized as a top 35 guy and is closer to the top 20 in my eyes. Regardless of where he lands, Washington has already begun to build the appeal of a future first-round NBA draft talent.
- Micah Peavy
Peavy, a Texas Tech sophomore transfer, is a former top 50 recruit out of Duncanville, Texas. He entered his name in the transfer portal following the exit of Chris Beard.
At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, Peavy showed off his ability to defend and produce in transition all season long, starting 25 of the 29 games for the Red Raiders. Peavy scored six points per game on 46-percent from the field as a freshman.
This one has a bit of a personal connection, as I have been all over Peavy as a potential riser in the 2022 NBA Draft. Offensively, Peavy displayed how raw his skillset is by lowly shooting numbers. Defensively, though, Peavy was extremely versatile and brought the toughness that Texas Tech has been known for over the last few years.
With the coach that brought him in moving onto the Longhorns, Peavy is seeking a new home to continue building his NBA draft resume. Connections aren’t there, but Coach Underwood has experience recruiting Texas natives, and Peavy’s skillset would be a strong fit in the Big Ten. This would be a massive get from the transfer portal, as the Illini already missed out on Noah Gurley, Furman transfer, who plays a similar spot to Peavy.
- Noah Locke
Locke is a 6-foot-3 and 200-pound guard who started 79 games over three seasons with the Florida Gators. The former top 80 recruit and Maryland native is a career 40-percent three-point shooter and made over 200 three-pointers as a Gator. Locke is a solid secondary ball-handler and has a strong feel for the game.
The Illini showed interest immediately after Locke entered the portal and has a wealth of high-major options. With Florida big man, Omar Payne, already in the fold, the Illini now have some ties to build upon.
Locke can fill a high-volume shooting role in the Illini backcourt alongside one of the nation’s best set up guys in Curbelo and play in the Big Ten alongside a former teammate of two years.
- Christian Bishop
Bishop recently entered the transfer portal after three successful years at Creighton and is already grabbing the attention of many of the nation’s top programs.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior is a physical presence, carves out space in the paint, thrives as a roll man and can be a dominant rebounder. The Missouri native was ranked outside the top 150 as a high school recruit in the class of 2018 but has completely changed his frame and became one of the more productive interior players in the Big East over the last three years.
Bishop is a Midwest guy and reportedly has the full attention of the Kansas Jayhawks upon his portal entrance. A strong frame with an athletic burst, Bishop should be an immediate starter wherever he lands. The future of the Illini frontcourt is still extremely fluid, but the Illini have made contact with Bishop and are looking to make up ground on one of the best interior options available.