Illinois Basketball: How the Illini will look without Terrence Shannon Jr.

Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) passes the ball during the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament game against the Penn State Nittany Lions, Thursday, March 9, 2023, at United Center in Chicago. Penn State Nittany Lions won 79-76.Psuill030923 Am11997
Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) passes the ball during the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament game against the Penn State Nittany Lions, Thursday, March 9, 2023, at United Center in Chicago. Penn State Nittany Lions won 79-76.Psuill030923 Am11997 /

Illinois basketball fans can expect to see a much different team when the 2023-24 season rolls around.

The Illini lost star player Terrence Shannon Jr. to the 2023 NBA Draft this past week, according to his Twitter.

The decision came just two weeks after big man Coleman Hawkins also announced his decision to declare for the draft.  Both players did maintain their college eligibility and have until the June 12 withdrawal deadline to pull their names from the draft and return for another season.

Shannon’s departure would be a huge loss for the program. “Sniper T” was the Illini’s go-to player last season, leading the team with 17.2 points per game and shooting nearly 45% from the floor.  The senior was arguably the Illini’s best defender, averaging a team-high 1.3 steals per game.  Shannon’s stellar season was enough for him to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors.

This latest mock draft by has the Milwaukee Bucks selecting Shannon with the last pick of the draft.  That said, it’s very possible he is seeking advice from scouts and coaches at the pro level before running it back one last time.

How can the Illinois basketball team replace Terrence Shannon Jr.’s productivity next season if he doesn’t come back?

The Illini have a few guys leaving, but they also have some impressive incoming talent and many key returnees.  Let’s start with the key returnees.

Notable returnees

The player I’m most excited about is sophomore wing, Luke Goode.

After getting limited playing time his first two seasons, thanks to a foot injury, the sharp-shooter from Indiana is bound for a breakout campaign.  Goode averaged just 4.0 points and 1.6 rebounds per game last year, but he only played 13 minutes per game and missed well over half of the season.

Now, why am I excited?  When he catches fire, Goode can become unstoppable.  The sophomore shot a team-high 42% from three-point range and an impressive 48.4% from the floor.  The former four-star recruit could very well fill that “sniper” void left by Sniper T.

Also returning is key big man Dain Dainja.  The 6-foot-9, 270-pound, sophomore served as the Illini’s No. 5 this past season, primarily posting up in the paint.

Dainja averaged 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and shot 65.5% from the floor, but I expect those numbers to increase next season for a couple of reasons.  For starters, he will likely play a bigger role for the Illini down low given the possible departure of Hawkins.  The other reason is another offseason to bulk up with the Illinois strength & conditioning coach, Adam Fletcher, who is known to bulk up his guys.

Take a look at what he did with Kofi.

The next guy is a really special part of this team.  A guy whose presence is always felt when he is on the court due to his contagious energy.  This would be freshman guard, Sencire Harris, also known as “Trent Frazier 2.0” because of his eerily resemblance to Trent while on the floor.

Aside from his electrifying energy, the trait that strikes me most is his ability to allow his monstrous defense transition into positivity on the offensive end.  Here’s a classic example.

The freshman guard averaged just 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, but expect those numbers to drastically increase for a few reasons; his work ethic, high energy, and the departure of Jayden Epps, Skyy Clark, R.J. Melendez, Matthew Mayer, and Shannon (possibly).

Now, let’s look at the incoming freshman class.

The incoming freshmen

The Illini have three players joining from the class of 2023, which includes two four-star recruits.

Headlining the group is 4-star power forward, Amani Hansberry.  The 6-foot-8 forward was the No. 46 prospect in the nation and the No. 1 overall player in the state of Maryland.

Hansberry averaged 15.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game his senior season – enough to earn him Maryland’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

Joining Hansberry is a fellow four-star recruit, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, a 6-foot-1 combo guard from North Carolina.  Gibbs-Lawhorn is ranked the No. 125 overall prospect and the No. 5 player in North Carolina.

The guard averaged 20.4 points, 4.6 boards, 4.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game for the Holy Rams in the Overtime Elite during his senior season.

Gibbs-Lawhorn is a walking highlight reel who will get the Orange Krush on its feet come November.

Finally, Niccolo Moretti, who has already joined as an early enrollee, will provide the Illini with some depth at guard.  Moretti joins the Illini from the NBA Global Academy in Australia.

I fully expect Hansberry and Gibbs-Lawhorn to get hefty minutes right off the bat.  Given their talent, the two should be able to fill a large portion of the void Shannon leaves production-wise.

Last, but not least, we look at the incoming transfers, who recently announced their commitments to the Orange and Blue.

Incoming transfers

The Illini just landed two key transfers this past week.

The first one is a 6-foot-4 guard from Utah Valley, Justin Harmon.  Harmon led the Wolverines this season with his 14.0 PPG, shooting an impressive 45% from the field, and adding 1.3 steals per game.  This includes his monstrous 32-point performance vs. New Mexico in the second round of the NIT.

This is a big leap from his sophomore season, where he averaged 10.9 PPG and 0.8 SPG.

If Harmon can continue to make progress with his scoring and defense, he could become a key piece to the squad next season.

Joining Harmon is a 6-foot-6 senior forward from Southern Illinois, Marcus Domask.

Domask led the Salukis in nearly every category with his 16.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 0.4 blocks per game.  The Wisconsin native scored over 30 points in three games, including a 32-point, 6-rebound, 4-assist performance at Illinois State.

The 2023-24 season will consist of many new talented names and faces.  The future is only bright in Champaign.

Next. Illini add frontcourt depth via the transfer portal. dark