Illinois all in on transfer portal

Apr. 17—GIFFORD — Consider Brad Underwood fully committed to the transfer portal.

The Illinois coach has lived in that world the last few offseasons. Reaped the benefits, too, with the addition of players like Alfonso Plummer, Matthew Mayer, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask. All four went on to earn All-Big Ten honors.

Illinois' forays into the transfer portal this offseason are part that's the way rosters are built now and part necessity. Amani Hansberry entering the portal Tuesday leaves the Illini with just four returning players from the 29-9 team that reached the program's first Elite Eight in nearly two decades.

Luke Goode, Ty Rodgers, Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn and Nico Moretti can't do it alone.

Clearly. Incoming freshman Morez Johnson Jr. and Jason Jakstys alone aren't the answer, either.

So the portal it is. And Illinois has been active since it opened the Monday after Selection Sunday, which has yielded the addition of Mercer forward Jake Davis, Louisville guard Tre White, Arizona guard Kylan Boswell and, new on Tuesday, Notre Dame forward Carey Booth.

"We've had guys on campus," Underwood said. "We've done a ton of Zooms. As the portal goes, this is speed dating. You're developing relationships and diving into things as quickly as possible. Our guys have done a great job, and we feel like we're in a place of addressing our needs. That's something we're excited about."

Underwood and Co. aren't done, either. Toledo guard Dante Maddox Jr. was on campus to start the week. Another guard — particularly one that's a high-level shooter like Maddox — is clearly a priority.

Underwood said he's also looking at adding at least one more big man to complement Booth.

Tuesday's in-and-out with Hansberry announcing his departure and Booth his commitment puts Illinois at three open scholarships for the 2024-25 season.

Underwood opted to get as old as possible last season with the additions of Domask, Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon. All fifth-year players. Maddox would fit that mold, but the Illinois staff has shifted its target this offseason. Boswell and White both have two years of eligibility remaining. Davis and Booth have three.

"We stressed getting old," Underwood said. "Now, it's just about acquiring talent and experience knowing it's a little more difficult to find older grads. Some of those will continue to happen late. We'll stay in the hunt for some of those guys, but now is more about continuing to build a roster that fits what we're trying to do."

What Illinois is trying to do will remain offense-centric. Boswell gives the Illini a point guard after not having one last season and ceding control to Domask. White was a double-digit scorer for Louisville. Davis knocked down 39 percent of his three-pointers at Mercer. Booth can stretch the floor at 6-foot-10.

"I think the game has shifted to the offensive side a lot," Underwood said.

"Knowing that, we wanted to go out and find guys that fit that style and fit the way we played with five out. That was important.

"We'll continue to try to sign shooting. Continue to try to find a big — or two. We'll continue to keep evaluating. This thing goes in segments with all your grad transfers and with all your NBA guys. In the meantime, we'll look at what's there, try to fill our needs and fit the pieces to the puzzle."

That could include leaving a scholarship open for the summer months. The deadline to enter the transfer portal is May 1, but that doesn't apply to grad transfers. Rutgers lost Cam Spencer after last year's deadline because of that caveat to the rule, and he didn't choose Connecticut — where he'd go on to win a national title — until June.

"There's always going to be different cycles of how this works," Underwood said. "We'll play it day-by-day as we are right now. It's ever changing. If we find the guys that fit us, we'll take them and try to get them. If they don't, we'll continue to hold."