Portal has Underwood, Green's full focus

Apr. 9—CHAMPAIGN — Brad Underwood is still stewing after Illinois' Elite Eight loss to Connecticut on March 30.

Giving up a 30-0 run to the Huskies in that 77-52 loss at TD Garden in Boston less than two weeks ago isn't something the Illini men's basketball coach has easily put in the rear view.

"I'm still pissed, to be very honest," Underwood said Monday night during a joint WDWS 1400-AM and 93.9-FM radio appearance with Illinois women's basketball coach Shauna Green at the Esquire. "When you don't win the last one, it takes me a little bit. I'm a bad loser."

Underwood didn't downplay his team's accomplishments from the 2023-24 season during his hour on stage in front of a crowded bar full of passionate Illini fans.

Plenty of highlights ensued the last four months. A Big Ten tournament title. Twenty-nine wins. The program's first Elite Eight appearance in nearly two decades.

Underwood simply hasn't had time to dwell on the good (again, a lot) and bad (definitely the way it ended) of his seventh season in Champaign. Even a mini-vacation to Florida with his son and Illini assistant coach Tyler Underwood didn't give him any respite.

"We literally met for four hours after the game talking about the transfer portal," Underwood said. "My son and I took a little getaway to Florida, and we did seven Zooms. It's all about the portal. It's all about re-recruiting your team. We haven't stopped."

The Illinois women's basketball team went out on a win to end its 2023-24 season. Five in a row, actually, as the Illini won the inaugural Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament with a 71-57 victory against Villanova in the title game last Wednesday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Not that Illini coach Shauna Green has had time to revel in that championship victory. Illinois rolled the Wildcats last Wednesday. The next day was full of meetings with players to gauge their intentions for next season before Green and her staff's schedule was filled with Zooms and phone calls with prospective transfers.

"We have an official visit (Tuesday) with a kid and then one this weekend," Green said. "You don't have a lot of time to reflect on anything because you're trying to prepare and build for next season. It's really one thing right into the next."

Green and Underwood face different roster-building realities this offseason.

Three players from the Illinois women's team entered the transfer portal after the season, but Aicha Ndour, Samantha Dewey and Camille Jackson didn't figure into the rotation this past season. Nine players are set to return, including four of five starters in Makira Cook, Genesis Bryant, Kendall Bostic and Adalia McKenzie, to go with a recruiting class that includes a McDonald's All-American in Berry Wallace.

Green's portal focus is at least one center, if not two, to replace Camille Hobby and bridge the gap to incoming freshman Hayven Smith. A couple guards are also on her wish list. Mostly for depth this coming season with an eye toward the 2025-26 season when Cook, Bryant and McKenzie will all run out of eligibility.

"You want to get old, and you want to stay old," Green said. "We went from two years ago having a lot of inexperience. This year we had more experience, but this year we learned so much throughout a lot of ups and downs. A lot better leadership. Now we've won some games when they matter. I'm super excited about having those guys back. Then, we'll go to the portal to try to kind of fit some of the needs."

Underwood faces a more involved roster reload. Terrence Shannon Jr., Quincy Guerrier and Justin Harmon have all exhausted their eligibility. So has Marcus Domask if the NCAA doesn't approve a medical hardship and grant him a sixth season. Coleman Hawkins declared after the Elite Eight loss he'd played his final game for Illinois, and Dain Dainja has already transferred to Memphis.

Monday's decommitment from incoming freshman Jase Butler gives Underwood and Co. four open scholarships for the 2024-25 season. Roster construction will occupy most of the staff's time until its set.

"We did a Zoom at 9 o'clock (Monday) morning," Underwood said. "We did another one (Monday) afternoon. It's just constant because somebody else jumps in the portal. It's pretty hectic.

"I've said it many times. I'm here to win a national championship. Until you get there, I'm a grinder, I'm a competitor, I'm a fighter that way. ... I made the comment after the UConn game, if that's what a national championship team looks like, we've got some more work to do."

Illinois has already added one transfer in Mercer forward Jake Davis, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining. Underwood made getting old a point of emphasis last season, and that really hasn't changed.

"As old as we can," Underwood said was the plan this offseason even with Illinois adding incoming freshmen post players Morez Johnson and Jason Jakstys. "We have one more year of the COVID rules, which allow for the fifth year. Not that all of them are going to be that. We're excited about Morez. We're excited about Jason.

"I like our group of young guys that we had this year. Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn, Amani Hansberry and Nico Moretti all had moments this year, and they're getting ready to take that next, most important, step from a freshman to a sophomore. We'll replace with some older guys."