Southern U Illinois Basketball

Illinois men's basketball head coach Brad Underwood, center, is finding peace after his first year with the Illini.

What you may have heard this week is that former University of Illinois guard Te’Jon Lucas is returning to his hometown.

A month after announcing he would leave the Illini basketball program, Lucas said this week he had transferred to Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

What you may not have heard is that on Tuesday the same Wisconsin-Milwaukee program confirmed it had given releases to its top three scorers from last season’s team, all transferring elsewhere.

Roster turnover in college basketball is happening at a pace that makes it difficult to keep up with the congested traffic pattern.

“Forty percent of rosters transfer by the time they’re sophomores,” Illini coach Brad Underwood said Wednesday. “That’s the culture, unfortunately.”

The roster churn is amplified whenever there’s a coaching change and Underwood has been working his way through that process over the past year since taking over the Illini program in March 2017.

It’s a complicated but often necessary process as a coach tries to establish a roster filled out by players who match what he’s looking for — stylistically and personally.

For Underwood, that has meant trying to find players who improve this team’s ability to dribble, pass and shoot. He has sought to reshape the roster with players who are taller, longer and will be emotionally mature as he pushes them to excel.

That’s not as simple as it sounds.

But here in late April 2018, Underwood can finally see the bulk of that roster either on campus or due to arrive in June. After a year in which he assembled a coaching staff, taught the basics of how he wants the game played, then hit the recruiting trail hard, Underwood sounds like a man who is finally finding a little peace of mind.

“It’s an 18- to 24-month process to get totally settled in," Underwood said. "It’s always a period of change and uncertainty. I’m ready to put a bow on this first year. It’s been a busy offseason but a necessary offseason. And I’m really, genuinely excited to get our guys here in June.”

Underwood said there’s a sense of tranquility settling into his personal life that makes his professional life easier to navigate.

“I have a daughter graduating from high school and I’m excited she’s going to Illinois. My son (Tyler, who will be eligible to play as an Illini walkon this season) is really happy. And my wife is feeling at home," he said.

“I’m a guy who likes driving home at night. I need to feel good about that. I need to feel at peace and I’m doing that now. That sounds simple but it’s an important piece, knowing that your family is happy and you’re getting things headed into what we think is the proper direction.”

Underwood said part of the first-year period of adjustment was evaluating players already in the program while at the same time evaluating prospects they hoped to add to the program. The plan, he said, was to proceed cautiously in the fall, which is why only 5-star Chicago Morgan Park guard Ayo Dosunmu was initially added.

Then, after assessing what changes were coming after the season ended, the quest to fill out the roster was accelerated. That cleared the way for five more additions who have signed in recent weeks — guards Alan Griffin and Andres Feliz, forwards Tevian Jones and Giorti Bezhanishvili and center Samba Kane.

Underwood didn’t specify his current roster, but persistent rumors suggest that freshman Matic Vesel will not return. That opens another scholarship.

As for rumors, Normal West’s Francis Okoro is said to be contemplating reclassifying from the 2019 class to the 2018 group.

Even those close to him don’t seem to know whether that’s his intention, or, more important, whether it’s a realistic possibility. But Illinois has invested a lot of time in his recruitment so keeping a scholarship available for the 6-foot-9 big man would make sense.

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Sports Columnist

Sports columnist for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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