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Envisioning the Ty Rodgers Experience



Illinois Basketball in Top 3 of Recent Power Rankings

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?

Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.