CHAMPAIGN — With size an issue and with a defensive rim protector a high priority, what Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood could really use now is a young Nnanna Egwu.
Guess what jumped onto the Illini basketball roster Tuesday?
Greg Eboigbodin, one of the most intriguing rising stars left from the high school Class of 2017, committed to Illinois and will have a chance to see plenty of playing time as a freshman.
The 6-foot-9, 217-pound Nigerian, who was recruited to Illinois-Chicago by current Illini assistant Chin Coleman, has given Underwood a verbal commitment.
He’s a native of Nigeria who grew up playing soccer, moving to the U.S. to play basketball for the first time in 2013. So he’s just hitting his stride on the hardwood.
That’s not entirely unlike fellow Nigerian Egwu, who was a late-comer to basketball but who had a high motor, could run the floor and had a natural knack for shot-blocking.
The Illini coaching staff believes Eboigbodin has that, too, and his soccer background should make him the kind of run-the-floor big man Underwood can easily fit into his up-tempo offense.
Egwu began to blossom at St. Ignatius High School in Chicago and by the time he graduated from Illinois, he had become the school’s career leader in blocked shots with 201.
Eboigbodin, who attended University of Detroit Jesuit High School, originally committed to Illinois-Chicago. And when he did, here’s what head coach Steve McClain had to say:
“Greg may not have grown up playing basketball, but he has developed a tremendous understanding of the game in a short period of time.
“He’s got a great background in soccer and he’s a fantastic athlete. Greg can get up and down the floor in a hurry and he uses his size and strength to his advantage, particularly on the defensive end.”
Eboigbodin led his team to a 28-0 record and state championship last season. He is listed as a power forward, but Underwood can be creative in deciding where and how to play him.
Until he committed on Tuesday, Illinois’ tallest player was 6-10 Michael Finke, who is not regarded as a strong inside defender. The next tallest is 6-7 Leron Black.
Once Eboigbodin decommitted from Illinois-Chicago, he was pursued by a number of schools including Illinois, Pittsburgh and William & Mary.
He’s also had some big rebounding games and his high school game tape shows a rangy kid with a monster wing span.
This commitment pushes Underwood’s 2017 recruiting class to four, back where it was before he replaced John Groce as Illinois head coach in March.
Underwood lost two commitments — Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett. And he subsequently lost two players to transfer — D.J. Williams and Jalen Coleman-Lands.
But he has added a pair of freshmen in Edwardsville’s Mark Smith and Eboigbodin, who join incoming freshmen Trent Frazier from Florida and Da’Monte Williams from Peoria.
Plus Underwood has added graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who averaged 19.0 points a game last season at Wright State. He has one year of eligibility and can play this coming season.