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Unique Senior Night coming for Illini

Mar. 5—CHAMPAIGN — The basics of Senior Night haven't changed.

The pregame ceremony at State Farm Center ahead of Tuesday night's showdown between the top-two teams in the Big Ten will look familiar to the fans in attendance.

Families will celebrate their sons' accomplishments.

Hugs will be shared.

Framed jerseys will be handed out.

All straightforward. All familiar.

The "what" of Senior Night hasn't changed. The "who" certainly has, with the Illinois men's basketball team set to honor seven players with distinctly different paths to that not-so-singular moment anymore.

There's the four-year senior who's actually played all four years at Illinois. The last man standing from a recruiting class of four that includes two players now on their third college team.

Then there's the scoring leader going through his second Senior Night at State Farm Center, having scored more than 1,000 points in two seasons in Champaign.

Don't forget the graduate transfer that might have hit 2,000 points at his first stop had one season not been disrupted by an injury.

Or the grad transfer who was recruited to Illinois out of high school and again when he hit the portal the first time before he finally wound up in orange and blue.

There's also the Chicago native who returned "home" after two seasons at a Kansas junior college and two more in Orem, Utah, as a mid-major standout.

And the walk-on whose connection to the coaching staff got him a shot at his dream school — and his first career points — in his final year.

Plus a graduating true junior that's crashing the party.

"I think what we see is the common, new era of senior days," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "We've got a new pattern or a routine. We've got a little bit of everything. ... It is really a unique day in the modern day basketball world we're living in where we see a wide spectrum of guys."

Coleman Hawkins, Terrence Shannon Jr., Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier, Justin Harmon, Max Williams and Luke Goode will all be honored ahead of Tuesday night's game between No. 12 Illinois (22-7, 13-5 Big Ten) against No. 3 Purdue (26-3, 15-3). A 5:35 p.m. celebration ahead of the 6 p.m. tip.

"All these guys have different decisions and different directions to go after the season," Underwood said. "That will be for that time. We'll discuss all those things, but, for the moment, this is a very special night."

Hawkins stands alone in his time at Illinois. The 6-foot-10 forward is the only Underwood recruit to play four seasons in Champaign. But Hawkins welcomed Shannon's addition last season and did the same this season when the Illini pursued Domask, Guerrier and Harmon in the transfer portal.

"I'm never the type of guy to feel threatened," Hawkins said Monday afternoon about Underwood leaning in to adding veterans in the portal. "Ever since they got here, I've just been comfortable around them. Super proud of what they've done in a short amount of time here."

Underwood pursued Domask, Guerrier and Harmon with a purpose in the offseason. Their previous experience mattered — all three are in their fifth season — and they checked the necessary size, shooting and scoring boxes.

But fit was most important. Fit with Hawkins and Shannon. Fit from a bigger, program-centric standpoint.

"We do our work," Underwood said. "We're diligent. We have a pretty exact idea of what we're looking for. We feel like we hit a home run in the portal — a grand slam.

"We had the idea. We had the blueprint of what we were looking for. Then it's more about, and I think this is the hard part, it's about the character piece as much as anything. It's who fits. Nobody wants to bring a knucklehead in or a guy that's a problem or doesn't fit or causes chaos in your locker room."

That new-look group worked. Hawkins, Shannon, Goode, Ty Rodgers and Dain Dainja were the only returning rotation players from the 2022-23 season. Domask, Guerrier and Shannon all arrived slotted for major roles in the rotation. And they found out early on they were all on the same page as far as what they wanted to accomplish this season.

"I think when you bring guys and transfers that are older and are just focused on winning, good things are going to happen," Domask said. "We didn't come in trying to get ours. We just came in as a collective group trying to win. That's how we created a bond."

Guerrier chose Illinois in a third-time's-the-charm scenario because of his relationship with Underwood and the vision the Illini coaches had for what he could accomplish in his fifth season. What the former Syracuse and Oregon forward saw when he arrived in Champaign reinforced his transfer decision.

"When I first got here, everybody was working out in the gym every time," Guerrier said. "I don't remember coming in the morning and not seeing six to seven guys working out already. It meant a lot to me that there was that mentality to win and just get better. That's how teams win — especially in March — with that mentality."

Egos were put aside. Leaving what was comfortable meant a change in role for Domask, Guerrier and Harmon. Hawkins and Shannon had to learn how to play with new teammates — again.

"We all accepted each other with open arms and just accepted our role and what we wanted to do, what we had in mind and what we wanted this season to be," Harmon said. "It was easy for me and my teammates to be ourselves. ... It was easy for us to come in here and build what we want."

Underwood saw positive signs of what this team could be in 10 July practices and three August games in Spain.

This group was coachable. Willing to learn. Willing to fill specific roles.

Those positive feelings were reinforced in December after Domask and Shannon dropped 33 points apiece in Illinois' win against Florida Atlantic at Madison Square Garden — arguably basketball's biggest stage. How the Illini competed a few days later, even in a loss at Tennessee, also resonated with the Illinois coach.

"Those challenges were great for us and gave me a pretty positive viewpoint," Underwood said.

Difficult nonconference games weren't the only challenges Illinois faced. Injuries to freshmen Nico Moretti and Amani Hansberry curtailed Underwood's plans to run out a deeper rotation. Hawkins and Guerrier have also played through injuries most of the season.

Then there was Shannon's late December arrest on a rape charge in Lawrence, Kan. Illinois had to find a way to win without its scoring leader and did, posting a 4-2 record before Shannon's suspension was reversed by a federal judge.

"We let a couple games slip and we can make excuses, but I think we've done a good job because everybody's had something that has been a distraction for them but it's hard to even tell," Hawkins said. "There's been so much stuff behind the scenes that we've fought through and challenged ourselves to get through. I'm super proud of the guys and the way we've handled ourselves this season."