No. 5 Center
Starter: Coleman Hawkins
I have not seen anything from Dain Dainja yet, so I am still going to stick with Coleman Hawkins starting at the No. 5 spot for Illinois. This is still a big lineup for the program, but we would be rolling without a traditional center.
Hawkins had some tremendous defensive development throughout last season. He became a nice defensive stopper for the Illini, and he came up big in the postseason. My biggest worry for Hawkins would be him lasting until the 2023-24 campaign. There is an NBA mock draft that has Hawkins going in the early second round.
Backup: Dain Dainja
The development of Dain Dainja is going to be critical for the future of the Illinois basketball team. If we can get him up to speed and producing at a high rate, then there is no telling where this program could go.
Dainja is a former four-star recruit who couldn’t find his footing with Baylor. If Brad Underwood could get anything close to Kofi Cockburn out of him, then the future is bright. I would also change the starting lineup around. For now, though, I have Dainja as the primary backup to Hawkins at the No. 5 spot in 2023-24.
Backup: Brandon Lieb
Illinois hasn’t used Brandon Lieb much since he arrived in Champaign. I expect that to be the same moving forward. Lieb should be used in blowout situations.
I would like Illinois to use a scholarship or find a nice big man in the transfer portal. This position is pretty important, and the Illini don’t have a concrete answer on how to replace Kofi. I think finding a nice big man transfer for 2023-24 would be smart. If we could get someone into the program, and then land James Brown for 2024-25, then we could be a national title contender.