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Envisioning the Ty Rodgers Experience



In case you hadn’t heard, Illinois basketball does not have a ‘traditional’ point guard. After a rollercoaster season in 2022-23, one of the priorities for the Illini was securing a primary ballhandler. RayJ Dennis seemed to be the man for the job, but after a recruitment with more twists than a bakery the Toledo transfer took his talents to Baylor. St. Louis’ Yuri Collins was thought to be an alternative, but entered the NBA Draft before Dennis made his decision. I suspect it was around this time that Brad Underwood decided to roll the dice. The Illini will ride with what they have, and it seems returning sophomore Ty Rodgers will man the point.

Rodgers has a number of attractive qualities for a point guard, however if he was a sure thing, they wouldn’t have been so loud in the transfer portal. With the unexpected double return of Coleman Hawkins and Terrence Shannon Jr. from the draft Illinois will once again boast a strong, long and athletic two through five. As we saw last year, all that is good and fun but in the Big Ten it takes more than just athletic, talented individuals to compete for titles. Rodgers will have to balance learning a new position with the expectations of an elite program. While he might not look like as much of a point guard as Skyy Clark or Jayden Epps did, there are things going in the sophomore’s favor that weren’t for Epps and Clark.


Epps and Clark looked the part of a point guard. Both had good positional size and were very technically solid. Their guard skills honed through countless game and practice reps. In this regard, Rodgers is very much playing catch-up. He has strong fundamental floor skills, including a powerful handle and court vision. However, he has never been *the* point guard, let alone one for an ambitious Big Ten team. He doesn’t have years of reps to fall back on, and every new adjustment and wrinkle the coaches of the Big Ten throw at him will be a pop quiz. Despite this, there is a lot you can do with a 6’6″ 200″ player with the specialized profile he has.

On Ball

First, you have look at the totality of the Illini’s roster. After the draft decisions of Hawkins and Shannon Jr., Illinois had their dudes for next year. Both have development to do, but after a year adjusting to new roles and playing together there is more than enough reason to believe that they can be the best players on a top 3 Big Ten team. The need for a primary offensive option was greatly lessened, which makes a pass first profile more valuable.

Still Rodgers will need to utilize his unique advantages for the pieces to fit. Early in the year, he struggled getting into the lineup. Yet, Rodgers had his best performances as the season wound down. For being 6’6″ 220 lbs, Rodgers has a very powerful  on both hands, which allowed him to power his way into the lane. Notice how comfortable he is going left:

Despite his strong left-handed dribble, he is *very* right-handed around the basket. Even with that he shot over 50% from the field, and 63% around the rim. Rodgers gets into the paint with ease, and when he doesn’t score, he attracts a crowd allowing for offensive rebounds or finding teammates:

With his ability to get to the basket, Rodgers must become a better free throw shooter. He shot just 38% from the line last year, which is simply not acceptable. Even just 60% would make him a very tough matchup. He also will need to become better in the pick and roll. He didn’t get a ton last year – just 17 possessions per SynergySports – but graded out well. Moreso than any major statistic, Rodgers was the only one on the team with possessions like these:

It won’t always look like this obviously. Rodgers is a pass first player and can at times force a pass. His assist to turnover ratio last year was just over 1.  Also, Dainja is a much better screen setter and roller than Hawkins, who Rodgers will likely be on the floor with more. The feel is there, and he is very comfortable and calm playing off two feet in the paint. His ability to read the floor extends to transition as well. Rodgers can bring it up the floor or receive pitch-aheads and make plays.

Off Ball

At 6’6″, Rodgers will be the tallest starting ‘point guard’ in the Big Ten. He recently was said to be at 205 pounds for this season, down 15 pounds from last season. Will teams put their point guard on Rodgers? If so, they can attack other team’s lead guards on the block. This would also lessen the reliance on him creating on the ball. Illinois has a plenty of ways to get him the ball on the block. While Coleman Hawkins is a career sub 30% shooter from deep, teams will still guard him. This means when Hawkins is at the five Rodgers can fully attack smaller defenders:

Some of those clips were against Seth Lundy, who just signed a two-way contract with the Hawks in the NBA. If Rodgers can consistently punish those mismatches, teams will put bigger defenders on him. When he is guarded by wings, the Illini can still use him as a in the post depending on the matchup. They can also use him as a screener, or just run plays around him. Illinois didn’t run many sets in Spain. But, for example, the Spread has some quick hitters that don’t require Rodgers to do anything:

Underwood will also want to play through super seniors Quincy Guerrier and Marcus Domask. With Hawkins and Shannon Jr. Likely drawing primary defenders in the front and back court respectively, Illinois can force teams to pick their poison. Last year they ran these sort of post ups for Matt Mayer when teams tried to hide smaller guys on him:


Nothing needed from the point guard there. It’s frustrating that Domask missed the international trip, as his fit is still just theoretical. However, in his time at Southern Illinois he had a good number of post-up and on ball possessions. Teams that play with a small guard will have to put them on one of Shannon Jr., Rodgers or Domask. With the personnel Illinois has, they’re going to look to really attack the offensive glass. Rodgers will be a big part of this, as he is a great offensive rebounder. If he is guarded by point guards even more so.

Due to this, I would guess that more teams put frontcourt players on Rodgers. In fact, down the stretch of last year when Illinois played Michigan in a double OT classic, Juwan Howard put the Wolverines 7’2″ center Hunter Dickinson on him. This can be problematic for spacing. Can they use him as a on ball screener? He will certainly have to be active cutting:

Bottom line is the Illini will have to think outside the box. Rodgers is beyond an unorthodox point guard. Where he will shine most will be on the defensive end of the floor.

The Future

Maybe even more so than just this year, the Rodgers investment is very interesting for the future of the program. Gibbs-Lawhorn has shown great potential this summer, Niccolo Moretti as well, and the Illini are very much involved with Jeremiah Fears in 2025. If Rodgers hits around his ceiling, does he take the reins for the rest of his time in Champaign? Underwood has been able to play with multiple guards on the floor before, and certainly he would sell that.

However, likely the best-case scenario is that Rodgers excels this year and takes that experience and knowledge to a more hybrid wing role. The lack of a jump shot, and unreliable free throws will always make it a square fit at point guard. He can hold down the fort around the experienced talent this year, and then play alongside more traditional guards.

For what it’s worth, I think Rodgers also has the intangible qualities for the point guard spot. He’s a tough, nonstop competitor who can lead by example on both ends. He’s not going to hijack possessions for better or worse and will be OK not getting 10 shots per game. There is going to be a lot of chaos if the Illini play the way they want to. Rodgers will have to balance his own chaos creation with some chill in the most chaotic sequences.

For years people have said the Big Ten has to change. Why not try something different?


Key Storylines from Illinois Basketball’s Conference Schedule



Key Storylines from Illinois Basketball's Conference Schedule

Key Storylines from Illinois Basketball’s Conference Schedule

Illinois Basketball is just around the corner! As Football season has finished the first quarter of their season, Illinois Basketball is about a month away from their exhibition game against Ottawa. Illinois Football has struggled to start their season, despite playing a rather difficult schedule. Fans have grown uneasy and are undoubtedly looking to the basketball team to ease their qualms. Brad Underwood and his crew have a similar situation to the football team. They return their key stars, however will be relying on some very young and inexperienced players to take some big time steps. There is a lot to ask out of transfers such as Quincy Guerrier, Marcus Domask and Justin Harmon so that a successful season can happen.

Today, the Big Ten schedule was released.

Illinois starts and ends the conference schedule with a bang.

Illinois will start Big Ten play on December 2nd on the road against Rutgers. Though Illinois has largely dominated Rutgers in Champaign and in the Big Ten Tournament in 2021, Steve Pikiell has inversely dominated Illinois at Jersey Mike Center. In fact, Brad Underwood has only won once in four games in Piscataway. Rutgers is a tough place for anyone to play in, Illinois will have to be on their best to start their conference play with a win. After that, they play a month of non-conference games. Only to play Northwestern at home, Purdue (away), Michigan State (home) and Maryland (home). After that, they travel to Ann Arbor to play Michigan.

Though Michigan is no slouch, that is probably their easiest game until January 30th at Ohio State. Despite that, we all saw how the Illini fared this year in Columbus. Their last 3 games of the season are at Wisconsin, home against Purdue and at Iowa.  Talk about a house of horrors to end. A game to end the season at Iowa has always been a testy battle in Champaign. However, on the road… look out.

Illinois did not get lucky with their double plays

The schedule looks daunting. You would hope that Illinois drew Nebraska, Penn State, Minnesota or even Iowa as the teams they hoped to play twice. However, the double plays for Illinois are Rutgers, Purdue, MSU, Northwestern, and Maryland. All of these teams project to be upper-half teams. Particularly, MSU and Purdue look to be the top dawgs this year. To play them twice? I’d say that is bad luck.

Overall, Illinois basketball’s consistency has to improve. They started last year 0-3, and had to claw their way back. They need to find the “roadkills” that made Ayo Dosunmu so famous. Last year, they were never able to win back-to-back games and consistently lost on the road. If they can steal a game against their double plays on the road, they will hopefully have a great season. Their non-con schedule is no joke either. Good luck, Brad.

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Illinois Basketball to Host West Coast Combo Guard Jase Butler



Illinois Basketball to Host West Coast Combo Guard Jase Butler

Illinois Basketball to Host West Coast Combo Guard Jase Butler

Jase Butler is a 6 foot 4 guard out of California. Recently, he dropped a top 6 including Illinois, Colorado State, Loyola Marymount, New Mexico, San Francisco, and UC-Santa Barbara. Butler may not be the highest ranked prospect, but Illinois Basketball is making him a priority. Butler is currently scheduled to visit Illinois this coming weekend on September 22nd. This will include a trip to Memorial Stadium for the Illinois Football game vs Florida Atlantic.

Butler’s visit marks the second combo guard from California that Illinois Basketball has hosted. 4 star guard, Mikey Lewis just completed his visit over the weekend. Lewis is a big time recruit; they are currently trying to catch up to the LSU tigers. The Tigers seem to have a lead on Mikey Lewis per our sources. There is a slight opening for Illinois, however, due to LSU assistant, Cody Toppert leaving for the G-league. Regardless, Illinois has learned the hard way multiple times that they need to have multiple options. Jase Butler would be a solid add as well.

The Player:

Butler is not the flashiest player, but he seems to make strong decisions in the Pick and Roll. Last year, Illinois learned that they do not have enough players who can do that well. With a rim running big like Morez Johnson coming in, Illinois needs to continue to add those kind of players. Butler would fill that role perfectly. He is not a great shooter, however has a tough body to him that can fit well in the Big Ten. If they can push a commitment from Butler during his visit, I am sure they are in a good spot to land the 6 foot 4 playmaker.

The Rest of the 2024 class:

Illinois Basketball currently has two commits to their class of 2024. Morez Johnson is the crown jewel thus far. The Top 50 big man is the best player in the state of Illinois and was absolutely dominant in the summer EYBL. Johnson slides in perfectly as Coleman Hawkins and Quincy Guerrier moves on after this season. His skillset and athleticism will be a strong foundational piece moving forward. Jason Jakstys is another big man, however has a different skillet. Jakstys is a project prospect that will require time to strengthen his body. However, he has shown solid athleticism and perimeter skills that mirrors Coleman Hawkins.

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Don Sunderlage led Illinois basketball to two Final Fours



Don Sunderlage
There wasn't much time for rest Monday as the Milwaukee Hawks professional basketball team started practice, but Coach Fuzzy Levane got together with several newcomers during a brief time out. Left to right are Bill Tosheff, Don Sunderlage, Bob Houbregs, Levane and Grant Wittberger. Tosheff formerly played with the Indianapolis Olympians, Sunderlage with Illinois, Houbregs with the University of Washington and Wittberger with Marquette and the Allen-Bradley's. The club is working out at the Arena. 1953 Press Photo Milwaukee Hawks Professional Basketball Team Starts Practice

-This installment features legendary Illinois Football player Don Sunderlage. In September, he and 11 other athletes will be inducted into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.

Sunderlage was a stand-out high school player.

Don Sunderlage, a player from yesteryear, was one of Illinois’ first great basketball players. Greatness came easy to Sunderlage, however. While at Elgin High School, Sunderlage set the record for points (359) and lost only six games in his two years playing varsity. He was selected to play in the North-South All-Star game, leading the North in scoring. After a decorated high school career, Sunderlage left for Champaign.

He led Illinois to two Final Four Appearances.

Unlike in today’s game, Sunderlage was not eligible to play varsity until he was a sophomore. Sunderlage started at point guard as a sophomore, leading the Illini to a 21-4 record and a berth in the Final Four (only eight teams played in the tournament then). After a lackluster 1949-50 season, the Illini returned to the Final Four in 1951. Illinois won 13 games for the first time since 1942. Sunderlage won several accolades in 1951

Don Sunderlage won the Chicago Tribune Silver Basketball in 1951 as the Big Ten Conference MVP. In addition to those awards, Sunderlage was also a third-team All-American (UPI), Helms and Sporting News Second-Team All-American, a Converse Third-Team All-American, and an Associated Press All-American Honorable Mention. Sunderlage is also the first Illinois basketball player to score more than 400 points in a season.

He was a first-round NBA draft pick by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1951, though he never played for them. Milwaukee traded Sunderlage for Mark Workman before the season began. Before he could start his NBA career, Sunderlage spent a required year in the military. From 1953-55, he played in the NBA as a member of the Milwaukee Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers, representing the Hawks at the 1954 NBA All-Star Game. Sunderlage and his wife, Janice, died in a tragic car accident in 1961 at 31.

The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics named 12 new members to the UI Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2023, including athletes and coaches from nine teams. This is the seventh Hall of Fame class. It includes two Olympic medalists, members of their sport’s national hall of fame, national champions, high professional draft picks, a Super Bowl champion, and a national record holder for more than 70 years. 

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