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October 2, 2019

Brad Underwood


BRAD UNDERWOOD: Well, it's exciting to be here. It's exciting to have a few familiar faces back in our program. I think that's one of the things that, as we had a very productive summer, we had a trip to Italy, it's been refreshing to have carryover. And to be able to build on some things that we had last year.

We've got what we feel are outstanding perimeter players in Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Andres Feliz, all with experience now. Two of those three guys were new last year and had to learn what Big Ten basketball was about. Obviously Giorgi Bezhanishvili up front now with another year of experience, I think he's one of the most well-conditioned athletes that I have been around. He's a tremendous worker. But a year of experience with him.

And then we're looking for leadership from all of those guys. Even though we're an extremely young basketball team, when you look at our roster, we do have some experience and some games under our belt. And we're excited about this group as we continue to build what we think can be a very, very solid nucleus with our team this year.

Q. With a lot of buzz and excitement coming into the season, especially on campus, how has the team reacted to this sort of hype and excitement going into the season?
BRAD UNDERWOOD: Well, I think we have a different swagger. I use that term -- I think there's a different feel about us -- just from the experience standpoint. I don't think there's that giddiness of the unexpected. I think we know now. We have the ability to have guys that can lead the young guys, that can lead the guys that maybe didn't play as much last year. I think all those things are positive. And I think that there's a confidence that comes with that.

We see that in our off-season workouts. We've seen that this summer in Italy and continue to see that as we will head through the fall here.

Q. Your second-best rebounder on your team last season was a point guard. What are your plans for improving rebounding?
BRAD UNDERWOOD: Yeah, it's been a concentrated effort all throughout the summer. In our ten days of practice that we had with Italy, we know that's an area we've got to improve on. It's an area Giorgi has got to be improved in. We've got to get much better consistency from our wings. Alan Griffin was our top rebounder on our trip in Italy, averaged nine rebounds a game and about 23, 24 minutes. We feel we've added some pieces. Kofi Cockburn will be a guy that will help in that area we hope, as will Jermaine Hamlin.

So we think we've added some pieces that will help in that area, but it's also been a big focus for us.

Q. Brad, you added two sit-out transfers in Jacob Grandison and Austin Hutcherson. Why was that part of the plan and where do they fit, and what have you seen from them so far?
BRAD UNDERWOOD: Well, they've been tremendous in our early fall workouts. We haven't officially started practice yet. We'll do that as we head into the weekend. But I think one of the things that we've tried to do is figure out how to get older, and then we've looked for certain specific skill sets and pieces. And both Austin and Jacob provide that. I'm excited about the fact they get a year with Adam Fletcher, our strength coach. They get a year of practice, and then they can hit the floor running. And it's not -- it's different than a grad transfer that comes in and immediately has to learn a new system and perform. These guys can develop, and then we get two great years of them, and that excites me.

So we felt we were in a good place with our roster, and we can address some needs for the future and have two guys that are ready to go as the following season comes about.

Q. What do you expect from Ayo and Trent just having another year to mesh together and build on that swagger?
BRAD UNDERWOOD: Well, I think the one thing we've seen -- especially in Ayo, we've seen a physical improvement that he gained strength, he's stronger. I think that Trent has done that as well. And then just a year of experience, being able to play off each other. They both had moments early in the year last year where one would have a big game and the other one would not. I think late in the year, we found a very good balance. I thought Trent had a tremendous year last year, even though he didn't have a 30-point games like he did as a freshman. But defensively they're both in tune, they're both elite defenders and can be, and then they're both capable offensively.

I'm excited about them together again, and that year of experience will be invaluable for them.

Q. Illinois has been known for this tremendous passion for basketball. It's been six years since Illinois has been in the NCAA Tournament. A lot of people are believing you're upper half or better, maybe even top third team in this league this year, which would almost certainly put you guys back in the tournament. What would that mean if you guys are able to fulfill that and push toward that this year, kind of pay off that passion that's really never left, it's still there?
BRAD UNDERWOOD: Yeah, we're very blessed at the University of Illinois. Our fans are second to none. And I say that we've got the hard part of the equation out of the way in terms of having an elite program, and that's our fans, and it doesn't matter. We've got 15,000 every night, and their excitement level, their passion for basketball is unrivaled. It has been a while. The program is one that we keep striving to get back to that elite status.

Nothing would make me happier than -- not just for our players, but for our fans -- to get back and get in the tournament, be able to make a great run and continue to lay the foundation for what should be an every-year experience for us, and that's being in the NCAA Tournament.

Q. Kofi Cockburn is a big add. How are the plans for meshing him with Giorgi coming along? Is that a work in progress as the season goes, or is there a clear path in your mind right now as you start the season?
BRAD UNDERWOOD: Well, I think I've got a pretty good idea what I'd like to see. How it all comes together will obviously determine that. I'm also a realist in terms of I know that they're not going to play 40 minutes together. We've got to find that happy medium where they're going to be on the court together. Giorgi was one of the outstanding low post players, not just in the Big Ten but in college basketball, and we don't want to negate that from him. Defensively, there's figuring out how to play with both of them, and yet I think that they're both unique talents. They're both very, very talented, and offer something that could be a problem for opponents. They'll be a work in progress as we go, and Kofi is a freshman and going to have to take in a lot and has taken in a lot already. But I think it'll be something that we'll see mature as the season goes along.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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