Richey | What impact will Orlando Antigua have this time?

Apr. 23—CHAMPAIGN — Orlando Antigua received a "Hail, the conquering hero returns" reception the last 36 hours from the Illinois fan base.

The one-time Brad Underwood assistant boomeranging back to Champaign as associate head coach is apparently all they needed to start thinking national championships. Plural.

Never mind a roster that's now just three returning players removed from a complete and total reload this offseason. Luke Goode's Monday decision to enter the transfer portal means Illinois will bring back just three scholarship players from last year's 29-win team that reached the Elite Eight. Only Ty Rodgers among them actually played a significant role in the rotation.

Newcomers (two incoming freshmen and four transfers) already outnumber returning scholarship players two-to-one. A ratio that's only going to become even more one-sided once the offseason moves are complete. Unless Marcus Domask gets his hardship waiver and sixth season of eligibility from the NCAA and Coleman Hawkins changes his mind and hasn't played his final game in orange and blue, the Illini are likely to add at least three more transfers.

Bringing back Antigua, of course, is a fairly strong way to address those roster concerns. He's long been considered one of the top recruiters in the country — a title he earned in his first stint at Kentucky when he helped the Wildcats reel in five consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting classes. Kentucky reached three Final Fours during that run and won the 2012 national championship.

Antigua didn't help land the same level of prospects during his first stint at Illinois, but he still played a critical role in Underwood's early rebuild. Andres Feliz epitomized the culture Underwood wanted for his program. Kofi Cockburn turned into a two-time All-American. Pre-concussion(s) Andre Curbelo was Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman.

Antigua was critical in getting them all to Champaign.

Now, he's back with a new title, four open scholarships to work with after Goode's departure and a financial commitment to make something happen. It's safe to assume Illinois will pay Antigua at least the $900,000 (not including bonuses) he was making at Kentucky, and the Illini have shown they'll spend on the name, image and likeness front (through a third party, of course).

What that means in the short and long term, however, is unclear. Might Antigua bring someone with him from Kentucky? Say a McDonald's All-American point guard that played at Alan Griffin's alma mater the Illinois fan base is clamoring for in Boogie Fland?

Illini fans are also certain the combination of Antigua and Tim Anderson can land Memphis' David Jones who is, in fact, not yet in the portal. Antigua recruited Jones the first time he was an Illinois assistant, and Anderson actually landed him at DePaul.

But Antigua's value on the recruiting front is rooted in landing high-level high school prospects. Good thing those are basically the only ones that matter now for high-major programs given the way the transfer portal currently rules roster construction.

Illinois already has one top-50 commit in the Class of 2025 in Jeremiah Fears.

Could Antigua, with Fears as a bonus recruiter, actually put Illinois in position to land No. 1 overall recruit AJ Dybantsa, who has East Coast roots despite playing at Prolific Prep (Calif.)?

What about Las Vegas big Xavion Staton, who's rocketed up the recruiting rankings since last fall? Would Antigua's presence alongside Geoff Alexander help the Illini close on high-level California forward Nikolas Khamenia?

Those are question for another day, albeit one not too far in the future. For now, Antigua's effect on the 2024-25 Illini will be followed with bated breath. How his connections might help fill out the roster is the top priority for a remade team that's still lacking an obvious No. 1 offensive option. Then there's his status as a big-man whisperer and what that might mean for Morez Johnson Jr. and Carey Booth.

Underwood has made it clear that a season like Illinois just had — all those wins, a Big Ten tournament title and a deep run in the NCAA tournament — is now the base level for the program. Both in how he's attacked the transfer portal and in bringing Antigua back for another go at it in Champaign.

Now, there's just the matter of rounding out a roster to make it happen again. Check back in a month. Maybe in June. Or just wait until November and see whether Underwood can keep building new-look successful teams year after year.

He'll have to the way the sport has changed.