Key Illini will exit, but Brad Underwood says Illinois program isn’t going anywhere

BOSTON — Illinois’ tournament run ended in a fiery blaze.

Not the kind filled with glory, but rather a car crash of epic proportions. After a season of high-flying, entertaining, eye-popping heroics, the Illini were stifled by UConn in the Elite Eight.

The question turns to what’s next for Brad Underwood’s program.

“Are you asking me should we slip?” -Underwood fired back when that very inquiry was made after his team’s 77-52 loss to the Huskies on Saturday. “Shame on you. Hell, we’re not going anywhere.”

Underwood might believe as much, but to make it true, he has the tall task of replacing his four leading scorers.

Terrence Shannon Jr., Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier and Coleman Hawkins are all headed for the exit. The first three have exhausted their college eligibility, while Hawkins said plainly after the loss that he had played his final game for Illinois.

“I think this is probably going to be my last year in an Illinois jersey,” Hawkins said. “I feel like I’ve done a lot in these four years. The time comes when a good thing comes to an end. I’m super grateful for the opportunity, super grateful for everything I’ve been blessed with, but I think this was my last ride.”

Hawkins has one more year of eligibility because of the COVID extensions available to athletes who were affected by the pandemic. He didn’t acknowledge that he would enter the transfer portal but repeated that he believed he would not return to play for Underwood. In four seasons at Illinois, Hawkins averaged 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds, contributing to four tournament berths.

Shannon has drawn NBA attention since he was a freshman at Texas Tech. When he arrived at Illinois upon transferring after his junior season, those pro expectations grew. After averaging 27.9 points, three rebounds and 2.7 assists in tournament play, Shannon is projected by some to be a lottery pick in the draft.

Shannon did not address the media at all during the Illini’s postseason, at the advisement of his legal counsel, which he obtained after he was charged with rape in Douglas County, Kansas, in connection with an alleged assault that occurred on a visit to watch the school’s football team.

After Illinois’ Elite Eight loss, he posted a message on his Instagram page.


Underwood took Shannon out of the game with a little more than two minutes left. As Shannon walked off the court, Underwood appeared to tell him to look up at the Illini fans who were all cheering as he exited.

“That will remain between us,” Underwood said about his message to Shannon.

Underwood exuded confidence about the direction his program is headed. He boasted about the “great recruiting class” coming in and said the Illini will continue to add players they want. The portal, which brought in Shannon and Domask, will continue to be a valuable resource as Underwood puts together a team that will attempt to make a fifth consecutive tournament appearance.

Still, the question that remains for Underwood as the Illini continue building for the future is: How do they climb to the top of the mountain?

This year, Illinois made it out of the first weekend of tournament play and into the Elite Eight for the first time in nearly two decades. UConn showed exactly how far the Illini are from the summit.

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