Trip abroad critical in landing Tomislav Ivisic

May 8—CHAMPAIGN — No set timetable exists for when the Illinois men's basketball program will have its new-look roster on campus together.

The sooner the better if you're Brad Underwood given the Illini coach has to integrate eight newcomers — and counting thanks to three open scholarships remaining — with the winnowed down returning core of Ty Rodgers and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn.

Underwood anticipates some of the newest Illini to arrive on campus this month. Tomislav Ivisic's impending arrival in Champaign, though, isn't set. Illinois signed the 7-foot-1 Croatian center Monday, and Underwood said Tuesday that the international admissions process can be drawn out and take longer than it would for the other Illini newcomers.

What Underwood doesn't anticipate, however, is the type of delay in getting Ivisic on the court that kept his twin brother, Zvonimir, from not playing at Kentucky until the final third of the 2023-24 season.

Zvonimir Ivisic committed to Kentucky last August, but didn't arrive in Lexington, Ky., until mid-October. While he was enrolled and academically eligible at that time, he was not yet cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center. A process that lasted long enough for Wildcats' fans to buy a billboard outside the NCAA Eligibility Center building in Indianapolis advocating to "#FreeBigZ" a few days before he was cleared in late January.

How does Underwood see the process happening for his own 7-footer out of Vodice, Croatia?

"Differently," the Illinois coach said. "That's all I can add. There were different reasons for his. Every reason has different stuff. Outstanding student, so I think there will be something different without diving into the academic world."

Illinois signing Ivisic on Monday was the end to a quick recruitment. Illini associate head coach Orlando Antigua had the relationship with the Ivisic family after recruiting Zvonimir to Kentucky. Underwood parsed through the game film from Ivisic's three seasons at SC Derry in Montenegro's Estre Liga and in Adriatic League's first division.

A trip to the Balkans sealed the deal. A trip Underwood said he had to make to meet with Ivisic and those closest to him.

"Connections and relationships are the most vital piece of that," Underwood said of the recruitment process. "Those are relationships O had and not me. I'm the head coach and needed to make some of those connections with his people. Along the way, you hope to build something that lasts a lot longer than this year, as well. The game of basketball is still about relationships — still about people and connectivity. It was very important for me to be able to do some of those same things."

What Underwood learned between discussions with Antigua, deep dives into game film and his expedition to Europe was Ivisic fit what he was looking for to round out the Illinois frontcourt. A skilled, lefty big man that can space the floor as a shooter, moves the ball effectively as a passer and can protect the rim as a defender. The experience playing for SC Derry and in the Croatian national team system didn't hurt.

"A guy that not many people know about in the states," Underwood said, "but worldwide he's a guy that's made a pretty good name for himself."

What Ivisic brings as a shooter was the decisive piece to the frontcourt puzzle. Illinois finished third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy, in the 2023-24 season. Having Coleman Hawkins space the floor as a stretch 5 — creating room for Terrence Shannon Jr. dribble drives and Marcus Domask post-ups — played a significant factor in that offensive success.

The goal is to have Ivisic do the same for a team that also added shooters via transfers Ben Humrichous, Jake Davis and Kylan Boswell. Those three transfers all shot at least 38 percent from three-point range last season. Ivisic connected at a 43-percent clip this past season in 38 games combined in Erste Liga and the Adriatic League.

"For us, it was simplicity on the offensive side," Underwood said. "It was all about a matchup and creating those matchups. When you have frontcourt players who can space ... we've set out to be very diligent in guys who can make baskets and who can really shoot the basketball and open that paint up."