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October 19, 2017

Brad Underwood

Madison Square Garden - New York, New York

THE MODERATOR: Next up is Illinois head coach Brad Underwood.

COACH UNDERWOOD: It's a pleasure to be here in New York City. I'm very excited about this opportunity. Being here in Madison Square Garden, I think, is very, very special. I think it's every coach's and every player's dream to get the opportunity to perform here.

Equally, I'm just as excited to be a part of the Big Ten. And I think it's a league filled with tremendous passion and fan bases as the 41 years of consecutive attendance records show. Great, great coaches, along with tremendous student-athletes.

I think it's something I'm very, very excited about. I've been very, very excited at Illinois to this point in terms of our fans and our passion. And getting to fill the State Farm Center is something I'm excited about.

I'm excited about this group. We return a nucleus of guys who have some minutes. We're fairly inexperienced. I think it's one of the challenges we have with this team, is to -- everybody's going to be in somewhat of a new role.

Malcolm Hill led this team last year, and yet we have two guys here today that I think are ready to take on that role in Michael Finke and Leron Black. Both of those young men got valuable experience. Michael was hurt at the end of the year. He's now healthy.

And I'm excited about a young guy that started the last 15 games last year, Te'Jon Lucas, kind of my type of point guard. He's a pit bull. He can really, really guard and he's a guy that's developing into leadership.

He's been slowed a little bit. He's coming off a concussion in practice. And we just had him yesterday for the first full day back, but excited.

We added a fifth-year transfer, Mark Alstork, from Wright State. Mark was a very, very big scorer there. I think he gives us a punch. And we have a very youthful exuberance about us with our group of freshmen, a group that I'm very high on. I think they're very talented. They're all a little bit different. And they're led by Mark Smith, a young man who is Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois that has a very gifted body and physique. He can play multiple positions. He'll play a lot of point for us as well.

So I'm excited about this group. I think they've committed to both feet in and working hard and changing a culture. And I'm excited. We get better every single day.

Q. Is Mark Smith different from most freshmen? Does he already have some leadership qualities and all that type?
COACH UNDERWOOD: Mark's very special. You're talking about a young man that physically looks the part of a 21-, 22-year-old guy, a guy that's been in the program. He's 6'4". He's 220.

It's unfair for me to compare him. But I do compare him a little bit to Jason Kidd back in the day. He's got that type of athleticism.

More importantly, his natural instincts are to lead. And I think once the game slows down for him and he understands exactly what we're trying to do, he's going to be a guy that's a fantastic leader, and he's a guy, I think, you'll see us play all over the court. He'll play a variety of positions for us, as we pretty much play position-less. But he's a tough matchup because of that body.

Q. Brad, on a 10-point scale just for the sake of discussion where last year's Oklahoma State offense is a 10, what's your goal for this year's Illinois offense?
COACH UNDERWOOD: 9-plus. I think that's to be determined. I think the one thing that I think -- we've got guys who can offensive rebound.

I think one of the things that we did last year was get to the foul line a great deal. We shot almost 80 percent as a team. That helped in terms of our efficiency numbers.

Last year's team didn't turn the ball over. We were a 9-, 10-turnover team in a high-possession style of play.

I think we're going to turn it over a little bit more than that early. We're still feeling each other out, understanding a new system.

But you know, I think we can be a team that's pretty proficient on the offensive end. And we're still every single day working to get better at some things and we've got to get better at some things. But we're different from the fact that Michael Finke and Leron Black are two interior guys that maybe we didn't have that much luxury with last year. But those guys are very, very capable of having big nights.

Q. I didn't know this, but Teddy -- I just read something that Teddy wrote about that you changed your defense in midstream at Oklahoma State last year from pressure to pack line, which is pretty contrasting. What drove you to do that?

Q. But that's pretty dramatic for a coach to do that in the middle of the season.
COACH UNDERWOOD: We were 10-2 in the non-league and we were leading the country in turnovers forced. And we were leading the country in free throw attempts at that time.

And the one thing that happened is we got into league play, we got exposed a little bit at the 4 spot. We were in all those games, very, very close games. And, yet, we had difficulty in the Big 12.

You're talking about a league that had Josh Jackson, Deonte Burton, Wesley Iwundu, guys who all played the power forward spot. Those were the guys who hurt us. So we got off to a tough start.

And I felt like a change was needed. And we needed a shot of confidence. We were right there knocking on the door in all those games. And something had to give. And I had to help them. And it's a long night or couple nights of evaluation, and we just decided that we're going to back it up a step or two and try to lengthen possessions. And, yet, it didn't hurt our offense. But it gave our guys just a little bit of confidence because we did change.

Q. Big Ten just announced an in-state rivalry, a protected rivalry for the first time. What do you know about Northwestern's history and what Chris has done for the program?
COACH UNDERWOOD: I think the one thing that excites me is it's -- Chris, one, he's done an unbelievable job there of establishing an identity, a basketball identity.

And their recent success is something that doesn't go unnoticed. I think any time you have two teams in the same conference, in the same state we should play. That to me is what the fans want.

I think it's exciting for college basketball to have those rivalries, to have those games. And obviously they're in Chicago we have a tremendous amount of alumni there. We play a game there every year in the United Center.

So it's something that excites me, and I think with going into 20 games every year, which I think is something that's great for basketball -- I'm excited about the early December games -- I think it's one thing that getting the opportunity to play them twice in each other's home venues is something that's really special. And I think it will be great for both sets of fans.


FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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