CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Every season has it’s ups and downs. This one for the Illini was more down than up. We’re taking one last look at the season with a season in review.
“I came here to try and and make the NCAA tournament and we didn’t do that so I really don’t care about all the other accolades so my personal assesment of myself, I feel like this season was a failure,” Ayo Dosunmu said.
Failure might be a strong word. There were plenty of flashes, especially from Ayo. But through it all, head coach Brad Underwood remained in good spirits.
“Look back at this with a very positive light,” Underwood said. “A lot of challenges with eight new faces. This team had a very, very difficult schedule. They stayed together, they perservered. They established our culture.”
That culture was at the top of the list when Underwood took over for John Groce almost two years ago.
“Well I knew what I was getting in to when I took the job. This is year one, it’s year two of my contract, but this is year one,” Underwood said. “This program deserves to be great, not just have great teams, and there’s a difference. So you’ve got to lay the foundation, you’ve got to build it.”
Part of the rebuild is going through the struggles, like losing the most games in one season this program has ever seen. But numbers aside, it was hard not to notice the progress this team made.
“Growth. They’ll look back on this and understand how much this season meant next year at this time,” Underwood said. “And how important it was to go through the trials and tribulations. There’s so many life moments in this year, you only become better when you deal with adversity and there was a lot and there were a lot of challenges.”
After the final game against Iowa, Trent Frazier said last year’s team was ready for the season to be over. But this years group wanted to go out and win the Big Ten tournament. That attitude let’s Underwood know that they have things going in the right direction.
“That let’s me know right there that these guys are about the culture. That’s the culture piece. And as we continue to grow on the basketball court, the culture piece doesn’t wain, doesn’t go away,” Underwood said. “Illinois is going to be a great program and we’re not just gonna have good team, we’re gonna have a great program.”
“I think we got our respect this season,” Trent Frazier said. “Teams don’t look at us when we come in the gym and be like ‘Yeah, we’re playing Illinois’. We kind of woke the world up this year. We’re going to have an unbelievable spring and we’re gonna stay together.”