Illinois Basketball: Alfonso Plummer’s impact could mirror two former Illini transfers

The Illinois basketball program didn’t have to rebuild for the upcoming season.

With great Illini teams of the past, the program usually takes a dip once a run is over with. The two seasons following the Dee Brown era saw Illinois go 39-31. The two seasons following the Kendall Gill and Stephen Bardo era resulted in a combined record of 34-25.

Dips in production usually follow successful runs. That shouldn’t be the case with the 2021-22 version of the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Despite losing one of the top 10 greatest players in program history in Ayo Dosunmu, the Orange and Blue aren’t rebuilding. They are just reloading.

Illinois basketball added one of the best transfers in program history.

The familiar cast of Illini talent is back for one more go at a national title. Kofi Cockburn is leading the way as a preseason first-team All-American. His point guard, Andre Curbelo, is also back and this time he is calling the shots at the top of the key. Curbelo landed himself a spot on the preseason third-team All-American squad.

One of the best supporting casts in the county will help lift these two basketball giants. Trent Frazier is a bona fide star on and off the court. Da’Monte Williams is one of the best defenders in the country. Jacob Grandison can do it all for this program. On and on and on I can go about how great the entire returning cast will be this season.

While the familiar cast of Illini talent can get us back to the NCAA tournament, it might be a new face who can put us over the top. Who is that new face?

Alfonso Plummer.

Throughout the years, Illinois has brought in plenty of transfer talent. Sometimes they relied on transfers a little too much. There have been quite a few instances where the transfer had to come into the program and be one of the top scorers from day one. Rayvonte Rice comes to mind.

Rice had to be one of the main scorers for the Illini as soon as he stepped foot in the State Farm Center. Relying on a transfer to be the top option is not going to get you too far in the college game. But the transfer portal can be used to take your team from really good to great.

Andres Feliz a few years ago came in and was a huge glue guy for the Illini. He helped lead the program to the NCAA tournament that ended up getting canceled due to COVID. Feliz wasn’t asked to be one of the top scorers on the team, but he fit in nicely with the pieces already in place. He would end up averaging 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists that year.

The same could be said for Marcus Griffin in the late 1990s. Griffin joined the Illini after a couple of years in the junior college ranks. He would team up with his former high school teammates at Peoria Manual, Sergio McClain and Frank Williams.

While Griffin was great for the Illini, he didn’t have to be the star on the team. In his final season with the Orange and Blue, Williams led the program while Griffin still managed to put up 11.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist per game. This was an Illinois team that was the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and would get to the Elite 8.

Feliz and Griffin both were impactful transfers into the Illinois basketball program. They both elevated the team to great heights. That is what I see Plummer doing as well.

Plummer is coming into the Illini program after putting up big numbers in his sophomore campaign at Utah. He averaged 13.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1 assist per contest. Something that Feliz and Griffin didn’t have before joining Illinois was the three-point shooting ability of Plummer. He joins the Illini after shooting 6.7 three-pointers per game and hitting 38.3% of those shots.

I will eventually release what I think the starting lineup is going to be entering the 2021-22 campaign. I will tell you right now, Plummer is going to be in the starting lineup. He won’t have to be Illinois’ No. 1 option on the floor. That will be Kofi. He won’t be the main ball handler. That will be Curbelo.

Plummer is just going to be able to do what he does best; shoot the ball. In an article by Christian Jones of The Daily Illini, Brad Underwood talks about Plummer and says, “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve coached, period.” He also mentions later in the article that Underwood has given Plummer the “green light” when it comes to shooting.

I think it is fair to say that not every transfer is built equally. Some are asked to come into a program and be the main guy from day one. Those, historically, haven’t worked out for the Illini. But then there are other transfers who come in and become an elite-level player as the third or fourth man on the totem pole. That is where I see Plummer landing.

Plummer is going to walk in the footsteps of past great transfers who have embraced the role of the third or fourth man on the team and thrived. He should be able to put up similar numbers as players like Feliz and Griffin have in the past. But there is one thing Plummer can do that the other two haven’t. He can win a national title.