(WCIA) — Illinois freshman Andre Curbelo has proved the spotlight of the big stage isn’t too bright for him. The guard has made an impact coming off the bench, and since coming to the United States, Curbelo has always felt like he had something to prove
“Coming from Puerto Rico to New York, nobody knows who I really am,” says Curbelo. “I’ve always been the underdog.”
The freshman has had success introducing himself to the college basketball world. Curbelo is averaging 10 points per game and leads the team in minutes per game (19.4) among non-starters, and his smooth moves have caught the eyes of fans all over social media.
“He’s elite now,” says head coach Brad Underwood. “Moving forward we’ll see a lot of guys load up on Ayo, and I welcome that challenge with Curbelo and what he’s capable of. That’ll be fun to see as he continues to grow.”
Curbelo scored 12 points against Duke and 11 against Baylor, but those weren’t the first times he’s flashed his moves on national TV. In February, he dropped 23 playing for his high school team against one of the best teams in the country — Sierra Canyon.
“I like that. I like when people talk. I like when people say things because I use that to my advantage,” says Curbelo. “I don’t gotta get mad, if you think we’re going to lose that’s fine. But I’ll take that and I’m gonna prove you wrong.”
Curbelo’s had some freshman moments both good and bad — he’s second on the team in assists but also in turnovers. Learning the ins and out of college ball both physically and mentally has helped him grow.
“We just gotta come out ready to go all the time, no matter who the opponent is,” says Curbelo. “Whether it’s Chicago State and Ohio, or Baylor, Duke, Iowa, whoever it is we just gotta come out ready to go and punch somebody in the mouth.”
Curbelo’s still got plenty of time and room to grow — it won’t be long before the guard’s game won’t need an introduction. The Illini play in another Top-25 matchup on Saturday. They take a trip to Rutgers for a noon tipoff on ESPN2.