This was an incredible hire. It was completely off the radar, which seems to be how Josh Whitman operates as AD of Illinois. But, I love this hire. There were names being thrown out there like Monty Williams who were ‘Illinois guys.’ Personally, this is probably the best name they could have got unless there was serious interest from Tony Bennett. Underwood is incredibly successful, making the NCAA Tournament every year as a head coach.
So why would he leave Oklahoma State after just one year? The answer seems to be money. He was grossly underpaid, making just about $1 million per year, where Illinois will more than double that. The other thing is it could mean Jawun Evans is heading to the NBA after his incredibly successful sophomore year. Underwood has been really good at developing players when you look at Thomas Walkup, Jawun Evans and Jeffrey Carroll over the last couple of years. If he can keep the current recruiting class coming into Illinois, he’ll have guys like Trent Frazier to develop.
The first thing he needs to do is fill out a staff with someone connected to Chicago. That’s too big of an area to not have ties to if you’re Illinois. He should be able to keep the top-tier talent in state and make Illinois relevant again. That’s the key. Illinois is a program that should be relevant and not an afterthought. People, especially guards, will want to play for Underwood when you look at his style.
Overall, this was a great hire. I truly hope Underwood turns Illinois around quickly because college basketball is better when a program like that is good.