What’s behind this drastic change that has suddenly uplifted Illini basketball?


Back at the 1960-61 season, when Brooklyn’s 6-foot-8 Bill Burwell joined Dave Downey, Bill Small, and the Illini gang, he had been the first non-Illinoisan a recorded as a basketball starter dating back to World War II.

Or the first in 16 years.


Later on, when Cory Bradford registered from Memphis, Tenn., in 1998, his first three seasons spotlighted him since the sole non-Illinoisan as a”regular” over nine years.

Fact is, in the 20th century, just a few notable outsiders — stars such as Tal Brody, Derek Harper, Nick Weatherspoon — have been spotted in one of the Illinois natives that dominated the UI courtroom for all those 100 years. Unbeaten in the Big Ten, the 1943 Whiz Kids, featured five products. The 1989 Flyin’ Illini reached the Final Four with Stephen Bardo, Ken Battle, home-staters Nick Anderson, Lowell Hamilton, Kendall Gill, Marcus Liberty and Larry Smith. The team in 2005 had only one starter from Texan Deron Williams, beyond the state line.

You may say times have changed. Brad Underwood’s squad is constructed around five products together with New Jersey backgrounds and New York, and it is going to be when the group is joined by backcourt star Andre Curbelo next fall. And Curbelo (born in Puerto Rico and playing Long Island) will maintain the UI foreign-born number at four even as Andres Feliz (Dominican Republic) finishes his eligibility.

Let us look at Antigua

What’s behind this change that has suddenly uplifted Illini basketball?

We begin with UI assistant coach Orlando Antigua. Shortly to be 47, he’s a native-born Dominican, was All-New York City as a prep at the Bronx, was all-rookie along with a solid performer for Pitt at the Big East, played semi-pro chunk in Puerto Rico along with Curbelo’s dad (they hung out together), trained the Dominican National team, played seven years with the Harlem Globetrotters and functioned as coach-recruiter for John Calipari at Memphis and Kentucky before spending two-plus seasons as head coach at South Florida.

Put simply, in regards to getting a foot in the door on the East Coast or in Florida, Antigua is your guy. He knows EVERYBODY from the marketplace after three decades of relationships that are developing.

This isn’t to mention he’s a gang. Including Underwood’s involvement, goes into beating the best apps for blue-chip talent out. The completion of these deals can be more complex than lovers can imagine.

But it’s functioning, and with minimal help from the state (thanks, Morgan Park, for Ayo Dosunmu and, ideally, Adam Miller). Josh Whitman, with powerful budget allocations, supports the net-spreading system that comes along at a crucial period when (1) downstate basketball has faded, (2) St. Louis connections are raw, (3) Chicagoland ability has hit a downward cycle with star players often moving everywhere, (4) state lines in any way, and particularly out into the immediate east, continue to be a rock walls and (5) traveling AAU teams have overtaken high schools in the marketplace.

Six degrees of separation

So let’s get back to Antigua of providing an entrance to Underwood to the East Coast, in his occupation. Look at these connections.

— Antigua’s brother onto a Dominican team coached Feliz. Feliz dedicated to Antigua in South Florida before transport problems caused him to enter college. After connecting Underwood in 11, Antigua jumped back on him.

— Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, Sophomore Alan Griffin’s dad, performed against Antigua in college and attended Seton Hall. Adding to the household familiarity, UI aide Jamall Walker grew up in the same town, Wichita, Kan., as Adrian… and Underwood understood Adrian for Ages. Alan was a member of the AAU team of Kofi Cockburn.

— Cockburn played with his first 3 years of high school basketball where Antigua starred in Christ the King in Queens, which will be in the same Catholic League. Antigua has been comfortable with his childhood coaches and had followed him.

And there is more

— Redshirting Austin Hutcherson is”a New York child who wanted to move from Division III (Wesleyan) and also my friends reached out last summer to find out if we were interested,” Antigua explained. “We watched a film and did the background work, and decided his skill set translates.”

— Redshirting Jacob Grandison needed a California history before attending Holy Cross in New York, and”was recruited by Chin Coleman through his West Coast associations,” Antigua Stated.

— In the case of Giorgi Bezhanishvili, the story goes Underwood and Coleman were checking on a different player going against Bezhanishvili’s Patrick School (N.J.) if he caught their attention. Underwood favored him though Bezhanishvili averaged less than 10 points in high school.

So once you see that Illinois is involved with a 6-10 junior from Connecticut (Mac Etienne), you can bet there’s a background relationship. As a result of Antigua, the UI staff now has better and deeper connections at the East than (dare we say?) Chicago.