CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood is navigating these uncharted waters much like lots of other people, by staying at home. He’s been plenty busy, staying in touch with his coaches and players over the internet, and recruiting always takes priority. Underwood is still trying to digest everything that’s happened the last couple of weeks after the postseason was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
“As sympathetic as we were that tournaments and championships weren’t played, the seasons were,” Underwood said during a media teleconference on Tuesday. “It’s a tough one, it’s hard but yet I get it and I totally understand where the NCAA was coming from.”
The NCAA announced on Monday it would allow spring sport athletes the chance to return for another year following the cancellation of all championships the rest of the semester. That does not apply to winter sports. In addition, it’s up to each institution how they proceed with handing out scholarships for next year.
“The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics is reviewing today’s (Monday’s) NCAA decision that will allow schools the option to provide an extra season of eligibility for spring sport student-athletes whose 2020 seasons ended prematurely because of concerns related to COVID-19,” the U of I released in a statement late Monday night. “We will have discussions with our spring sport coaches and student-athletes in the days ahead as we determine our path forward.”
That means whatever slim chance there was to see Kipper Nichols and Andres Feliz back next season, is no more. Also not back next year, Alan Griffin or Tevian Jones. Griffin sent a shock wave through Illini Nation when he announced his intent to transfer last week.
“I’m never surprised by anything today,” Underwood said in his first comments to the media about the transfers. “There’s nothing that is shocking anymore. You almost become, I guess, numb to it.”
Giorgi Bezhanishvili, the only current Illini player left in Champaign-Urbana due to COVID-19, said the news of the transfers hurt. He was roommates with Griffin during their first season.
“Definitely heartbroken at first because those are my guys,” Bezhanishvili said. “At the same time I realize people always make decisions for themselves and they put themselves first. I just wish the best of luck to them.”
The losses leave Illinois with what seem to be open spots in the rotation but Underwood doesn’t see it that way. He looks at it as an opportunity for Austin Hutcherson and Jacob Grandison, to come in and help right away.
“Those two guys are basically the same size, but very different,” Underwood said. “So they bring different things to the table in what they do. To have those two guys go through a year of practice was huge. There was times in practice where, on the scout team, they were a handful.”
The Illini currently have one open scholarship for next season, that will move to two if Ayo Dosunmu goes to the NBA.