The first burst of the high school basketball season has passed. The big December shootouts and huge Public League conference games are in the books.
One question loomed during the first month of the season: Where is Brad Underwood?
The Illinois coach was not seen in any gym in the Chicago area.
According to Curie coach Mike Oliver no member of the Illinois coaching staff showed up at his loaded two-day Team Rose Shootout at Mount Carmel.
Young coach Tyrone Slaughter says he doesn’t think any Illinois coach attended the Chicago Elite Classic, his two-day shootout at Wintrust Arena which featured some of the top teams in the country.
Rolling Meadows sophomore Max Christie is one of the best players in the national class of 2021. Coaches from Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan, Iowa and more have all been to a Rolling Meadows game this season. Illinois has not.
Coaches from Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern have been at games to see Fenwick’s talented sophomore Bryce Hopkins. Illinois has not.
Anthony Sayles, a promising sophomore at Notre Dame, took an unofficial visit to Illinois over the summer. Other coaches have been to his games this season and to open gyms at Notre Dame. Illinois has not.
The list goes on. Curie, Evanston, Bloom, Marian Catholic, Kenwood and Morgan Park all have promising sophomores and juniors but Underwood has not been to see them.
“It is tough when you have a struggling team,” Derek Piper of Illiniinquirer.com said. “They need every second of his focus. But there is no doubt that one of the criticisms of Brad is he hasn’t been out enough. That was talked about in the EJ Liddell recruitment. The staff is trying to do more.”
Piper says that Young’s DJ Steward and Morgan Park’s Adam Miller are important targets for Underwood and Illinois. Underwood hasn’t been out to see either player so far this season.
“We haven’t had [Underwood] in the building,” Slaughter said. “It would always be good to see the state university’s head coach in the building or at a game. Not only would the players he is recruiting welcome it, but the coaches would too. Relationships are the bedrock of college recruiting. You have to be out to forge those relationships.”
Illinois assistant coach Chin Coleman says the team’s busy schedule and Underwood’s recent knee replacement has made recruiting difficult.
“We’ve traveled over 10,000 miles,” Coleman said. “We’ve had like nine games in 22 days. We haven’t even had time to practice, we’ve played all over the world.”
DePaul coach Dave Leitao has been at several games and Chicago State coach Lance Irvin appears to be at almost every high-profile game or shootout.
“As a coach I understand that your number one focus should always be the team you are coaching at the moment,” Slaughter said. “But at the same time you have to be focused on what is to come. You have to be out, you have to be visible. As the head coach you have to be the one making the case for a kid attending your institution.”
Coleman says that Illinois always knew that recruiting would be difficult over the first month of the season and that the plan has been for Underwood to attend several holiday tournaments. He says Underwood will be at the Pontiac, Big Dipper, Proviso West and Wheeling tournaments.
“He probably hasn’t been to a game [in the Chicago area] yet,” Coleman said. “And he’s going to be out the whole Christmas break.”
Coleman says Underwood will be at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament to see several teams, including Simeon. The relationship between Illinois and Wolverines coach Robert Smith, a former self-proclaimed “Illinois guy,” is still a mess.
Last year Simeon star Talen Horton-Tucker was unable to accept a scholarship offer from Illinois. Horton-Tucker and his family were crushed and Smith was furious. Horton-Tucker committed to Iowa State. He’s having an excellent freshman season with the Cyclones and is now considered an NBA prospect.
“No one has come here to rectify the situation,” Smith said. “No one has sat down and said why they didn’t take him or what happened. Maybe they are still trying to figure out what to say.”
The Wolverines are loaded with talent. Sophomore Ahamad Bynum is one of the state’s best guards and 6-9 AJ Casey and guard Jaylen Drane are two of the best freshmen in the country. Smith was surprised to hear that Underwood had not been to a high school game in the area.
“If they aren’t coming to Simeon I understand,” Smith said. “Until the problem is rectified maybe we don’t have any players that they want. But if he hasn’t been anywhere that is not a good look.”