Brad Underwood’s wife and daughters are in town this week shopping for a house and a school district.

While he’s living out of a suitcase in Central Illinois, they’ve been back in Oklahoma finishing up the school year.

Underwood hasn’t seen them much since becoming the University of Illinois basketball coach on March 18 so it’s good to have them around.

Except that he’s barely around.

Practice. Recruiting. More recruiting.

With Underwood on the go, how will he help them pick the proper home?

“She’ll pick it,” he said. “I’d be happy in a small apartment with a bedroom and a bathroom. She’ll find a place that she likes and I’ll say, ‘yes.’”

The Underwoods never found that perfect home in Stillwater, Okla., which is why during the one year they were at Oklahoma State, they rented and barely unpacked their belongings.

The bad part is that they never really settled in. The good part is they were ready to move when Josh Whitman swooped in and made an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Consider it a good sign that after never buying a home in Stillwater the Underwood clan is moving quickly to buy one in Champaign-Urbana.

While the women of the family will find the house, Brad Underwood is working overtime to find more Illini players.

He was bouncing from gym to gym this weekend, looking at players for the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes while keeping his antennae up as he tries to fill out the 2017 class.

In that regard, Underwood said this week he’s searching for size. And he has a specific plan when looking for the kind of late signing big man he’s likely to see.

“The thing you try to find is someone who can do something exceptionally well,” he said. “You usually aren’t going to find guys who have a well-rounded package. But I look for him to excel in one area and we’ll help him with the rest.”

Scoring, rebounding or defense: Underwood is looking for someone who is excellent at something.

“Whether that’s a high school player, a fifth-year transfer, we’ll take what fits," he said. "Adding a piece there would be quite nice.”

Although he’s not going to fill Illinois’ gaping hole in the middle, one player who will be deciding soon is Italian-born Mission, Kan., prep senior Francesco “Frankie” Badocchi, a 6-foot-8 pogo stick who can move swiftly up and down the floor.

Underwood had him on campus and, as he did with Edwardsville’s Mark Smith, presented him with a blueprint for how he could thrive in his system.

It looks like it’s between Illinois and Virginia.

And don’t cross Jeremiah Tilmon off the list just yet. The East St. Louis big man, who committed to Illinois but was released from his letter of intent after the coaching change, is still unsigned.

Illinois has kept lines of communication open and Smith said he and Tilmon talk often.

Smith’s signing this week could be helpful in getting Tilmon to rethink his decision.

Underwood’s recruiting situation is unusual because recruiting on short notice is neither normal nor ideal. He had to rapidly accelerate the process of establishing a relationship with Smith, hoping to build trust in a matter of weeks where he’d normally do it over a year or more.

That’s why Underwood said that while he was hopeful, he was never entirely confident Smith would pick Illinois over Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky.

Because Smith didn’t explode into a national recruit until December, other coaches didn’t have an enormous head start establishing relationships with him. It didn’t take Underwood long to know Smith was his priority recruit.

“The first time I met with Mark and his family, as I left his house I told (assistant coach Jamall Walker), ‘I love him.’ What a great family, his parents, his younger brother and sister. It was exciting," Underwood said.

“And I got more excited with every conversation I had, just because he’s a terrific person. But I wouldn’t say I was confident. It’s a process. I’m a relationship guy and you’re trying to do this in a very quick manner when there is a coaching change. I felt good, but I’m never confident until that name is on the dotted line. There’s a lot of moving pieces in recruiting.”

That’s why it’s important for Underwood to waste no time getting in front of recruiting priorities such as 2019 target E.J. Liddell from Belleville West, who Underwood was watching play Saturday in Indianapolis.

His wife and daughters will pick the perfect home. It’s his job to find the perfect players.

Mark Tupper covers Illini sports for Lee News Service. Contact him via Twitter at @MarkTupper


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