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Illinois Basketball: Into The Portal



In the offseason, the NCAA declared that the college basketball transfer portal would be opening on Selection Sunday. As a result, with zero NCAA tournament games played yet (until Illinois plays in it, we are not counting the First Four) there were over 400 names in the Division One transfer portal. Like just about every move made by the NCAA nowadays, the transfer portal is certainly controversial. It’s also a game that Illini coach Brad Underwood is comfortable playing. In each of the last two offseasons, Illinois has felt both sides of the portal.

Power Five transfers like Terrence Shannon Jr., Matthew Mayer, Dain Dainja and Alfonso Plummer all averaged career highs in the Orange and Blue. Shannon Jr., Mayer, and Plummer all made All Conference teams in their one year in Champaign. Jacob Grandison went from Holy Cross to a starting spot on one of the greatest Illinois teams of all time in 2021. However, the Illini also lost Alan Griffin, Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo, Brandin Podziemski, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, and most recently Skyy Clark, Jayden Epps and RJ Melendez to the portal.

Of those now 1,450+ names (per VerbalCommits) Illinois will need to look for a couple of impact players. After adding Justin Harmon and Marcus Domask, the Illini are down to two open scholarships. The portal has slowed down, with most players either in the draft or locked into their current or new schools. When the draft dropout wave begins, I’d expect the Illini to look to fill both, especially a pure point guard. With decisions from Coleman Hawkins and Shannon Jr. looming, the Illini have to play a waiting game, as their sell to those dropouts will hinge on those two. The Illini will have a strong sell and have the NIL backing to play with the highest rollers no matter what Shannon and Hawkins decide.

Confirmed Interest

Nicholas Timberlake – G, Towson

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Timberlake announced he was entering the portal on the March 9th, and per On3’s Joe Tipton, Illinois has reached out to him. Timberlake was the first player this offseason to hear from the Illini. Timberlake is a 6’4″ guard and will be a grad transfer. He will have just one year of eligibility as he played 5 years at Towson, making next year his COVID year. Butler, Ohio State and Maryland have already had Zoom meetings with Timberlake. Last year he shot 42% from three, 85% from the FT line, and 45% from the field overall.

Timberlake is the kind of shooter those numbers look like. He averaged 17 points per game, and went for over 30 three times last season, including 34 against CAA champion College of Charleston. Timberlake was on the CAA First Team each of the last two years. He’s a silky shooter who is comfortable with just about any kind of jumper in the book. He can play around screens both on and off the ball, and is able to get it up with ease, averaging almost seven attempts from downtown per game. Timberlake has also can attack the closeouts caused by those shooting and finish around the basket or pull up from the midrange, shooting about 50% on two-point shots.

He has decent positional size, so defense shouldn’t be a major major issue even if it isn’t part of the headline. If the Illini turn up the interest, I will post some film showing breaking down his game.

(3/20/23) Stockriser’s Jake Weingarten tweeted that Timberlake has an in-home visit with North Carolina on the 21st, and Ohio State on the 22nd. Illinois was not mentioned in the update.

(3/28/23) Weingarten tweeted that Timberlake was was taking an official visit to North Carolina.

Jackson Paveletzke – G, Wofford

Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Jackson Paveletzke announced he was entering the portal on March 15th, and per On3’s Joe Tipton, Illinois has reached out to him. Paveletzke is a 6’3″ guard and was a true freshman last year at Wofford. He will have three years of eligibility and be able to play immediately wherever he goes. He’s heard from a large number of Power 5 schools but hasn’t taken any zoom meetings yet. He put up 15 points per game, about three rebounds and four assists per game.

Paveletzke is a smooth offensive operator on the ball. He shot 39% from deep and uses that threat to get into the paint off ball screens and closeouts. At 6’3″ he can get his shot off in the lane despite not being an elite athlete and plays in control off two feet when he gets in there. While he certainly wasn’t the most intimidating defender, depending on when you read this, he will either turn 19 in a day, or has just turned 19. With an offseason in a Power Five weight room, he could become much less of a negative on that end. Paveletzke was the true point guard for Wofford, initiating their offense whenever he was in the game. He had 19 points and five assists against LSU.

If Illinois turns up the heat, I will post some film.

(4/10/23) Paveletzke committed to Iowa State on his visit there.

Jamison Battle – F, Minnesota

Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Jamison Battle announced he was entering the portal on March 16th, and per 247Sports’ Travis Branham Illinois reached out to him. Big Ten basketball fans will not need much introduction time to Battle, who featured on Minnesota’s last two teams after transferring from George Washington. We will see how the NCAA handles multi-time transfers this offseason, but last year getting a waiver was easier than finding the sky on a sunny day. Battle has heard from a large number of possible suitors and has set up an in-home visit with Butler.

Battle put up good numbers in his time in Minnesota, leading them in scoring in 2021-22 and made the All-Big Ten Honorable Mention team. At 6’7″ and 225 pounds, Battle proved he was Big Ten ready from the jump in Minneapolis. Battle operates primarily on the perimeter, where his size and skill can make him a tough matchup. However, after scoring 17 points per game and shooting 36% from 3 in 21-22, he shot just 31% in 22-23 and scored 12 points per game.

Battle struggled with injuries and also had to integrate Dawson Garcia into the offensive picture, so it’s possible he finds that 21-22 groove with a change of scenery. It will be interesting to see where Battle ends up, as most teams would probably like to take a player with his experience and ability, but his numbers have not proved to be connected to winning with Minnesota finishing 13th and 14th in the last two years.

If there’s smoke here, I will post film on his fit in Champaign.

(3/28/23) GopherHole’s Tony Liebert tweeted that Battle had scheduled an in-home visit with Indiana.

(4/5/2023) 247Sports Travis Branham sent a Crystal Ball for Battle to Ohio State. Illinois hasn’t been mentioned since the initial list, it’s safe to assume this isn’t one they are really on.

Dontrez Styles – G/F, North Carolina

Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Dontrez Styles announced he was entering the portal on March 17th, and per On3’s Jamie Shaw Illinois has reached out to him. Styles had just finished his sophomore year with the Tar Heels, giving him two more years of eligibility. He struggled to get a consistent spot in Carolina’s rotation, averaging under six minutes per game in both years in Chapel Hill. At 6’6″ Styles has great size for a perimeter player, but he shot under a three per game on average. He was the number 66 rated player in the class of 2021 (one spot below Purdue forward Caleb Furst for reference).

Outside of his 25 minutes in UNC’s second round classic against Baylor a year ago, Styles never played over 16 minutes in a game for Carolina. With so little time on the court, he isn’t quite the known quantity some of the players the Illini have taken from the portal have been. The amount of interest here will be very telling, he isn’t leaving Carolina to not play. With his multiple years of eligibility and recruiting pedigree, this will probably be a hot one. Illinois will have a great sell if they go this way and if they do, I will post film on his fit.

(4/9/2023) – Styles committed to Georgetown.

Jae’lyn Withers – F, Louisville

Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Jae’lyn Withers announced he was entering the portal on March 20th, and per Stockriser’s Jake Weingarten Illinois has reached out. Withers is a grad transfer, but redshirted his freshman year at Louisville, so he will have two years of eligibility. He is one of six players leaving the Cardinals after Kenny Payne begun assembling his roster for next year. Withers was an All-ACC Freshman team member but hasn’t showed a ton of progress since then. He shot a career high 42% from three last year on career-high volume.

Withers fits the bill as a long, athletic shooter. He would be playable with just about any player on Illinois roster. He shows some decent ability off the bounce and can finish around the basket when he gets there. At 6’8″ he can also impact the glass and averaged almost eight per game that freshman season. With Louisville being such a disaster the last two years, it is understandable that Withers is looking for greener pastures. While Illinois certainly had their own locker room issues, a guy desperate to win like Withers should be a good influence on that end.

Like most Power Five guys with multiple years of eligibility, this will probably be a hot one. If Illinois turns it up, I will break Wither’s game down further.

(4/11/2023) Withers committed to North Carolina

Primo Spears – G, Georgetown

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Primo Spears announced he was entering the portal on March 13th and per On3’s Joe Tipton, Illinois has reached out to him. Spears is entering the draft but is expected to return to college. He started at Duquesne, then transferred to Georgetown. He will need a waiver or to sit out a year and will have two years of eligibility.  Spears is an explosive scorer at 6’3″ but does the majority of his damage inside the arc.

Illinois has been in contact with a couple of guards, and with the departure of Skyy Clark and Jayden Epps will need to add one or two. Spears is very much a scorer but did average over five assists per game for a truly terrible Georgetown team. Spears has heard from a number of other suitors, and in a recent interview didn’t reference the Illini among names like Arkansas, Mississippi State and TCU. He said he would visit TCU and have a zoom with Mississippi State.

While the draft and portal market is one I would keep an eye on based on the Illini’s portal history, I do not think Spears is option one. If Illinois turns it up with Spears I will break his game down further.

(4/3/2023) Spears released a Top Four of Arkansas, Florida State, Kansas and TCU meaning he will not be coming to Illinois.

Dalton Knecht – G, Northern Colorado

Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Dalton Knecht announced he was entering the portal on March 23rd and per Mountain West Wire’s Sean Paul Illinois has reached out to him. Knecht spent two years at the JUCO level, and then two years at Northern Colorado, meaning this will be his last year of eligibility. Illinois isn’t alone in their interest, as schools like Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina and a bevy of others have made contact.

Knecht is a guy who can play alongside a primary guard or Ty Rodgers and space the floor or create offense as a secondary ballhandler. He fits what they are looking for in an older guard, averaging 20 points and shooting 38% from three on over six attempts. He was first team All-Big Sky. Northern Colorado wasn’t very good, but Knecht got a lot of reps as the guy, something that can be valuable for a guy willing to play alongside other talented pieces to win.

This one makes a lot of sense. Outside of a couple names there haven’t been much clear fits, only loose interest. I still think Illinois will be shopping for at least one or two players in the draft dropout market, having a shooter with positional size and ball handling is a fit on any good basketball team. If things progress, I will post film on his fit.

TJ Bamba – G, Washington State

Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

TJ Bamba announced he was entering the NDA draft and the portal on March 27th, and according to ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, Illinois has reached out. Bamba spent the last three years at Washington State, meaning he will not need a waiver, and will have two years of eligibility including a COVID year. Like most of these multiyear Power Five transfers, Bamba has a long list of suitors besides the Illini, including Arizona, Kansas, Florida and St. John’s.

Bamba is another big guard, standing at 6’5″. He is a career 38.5% three-point shooter and shot 37% last year on about five attempts per game. Bamba averaged a career high 16 points per game last year to go with four rebounds per game. However, he shot poorly around the rim and had more turnovers than assists every year in the Palouse.

Bamba fits the profile the Illini want. Big guard that can shoot and do a little self creation as well. They likely won’t ask Bamba to be their leading scorer, and he will complement their returning core well. However, I do not think this is one they will go all in on, as there is little connection existing here. If there’s Illinois smoke, I’ll have fire film.

(4/10/2023) Bamba has cut his list to just Villanova and Georgia Tech, meaning Illinois is out of the running.

Kel’el Ware – C, Oregon

Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Kel’el Ware announced he was entering the portal on March 27th and according to On3’s Joe Tipton Illinois has reached out. Ware was a top 10 recruit in the 2022 class, and a McDonald’s All American. After a disappointing freshman year, he is looking for a change of scenery with three years of eligibility remaining. As expected, Ware has a gaudy list of contacts including Duke, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Texas and more.

Funnily enough, Ware played with Illini freshman Ty Rodgers on Team USA last summer. He is a big-time talent, and at this time last year the seven-footer was considered a first rounder by most. However, after just six points and four rebounds per game, his stock has become much murkier. He only played 16 minutes per game, and wherever he goes he’s going to want to probably double that number. He is a fluid athlete who can play facing the basket, but with Dain Dainja’s return and Coleman Hawkins maintaining his college eligibility through the draft process Illinois doesn’t provide the clearest path to a ton of minutes.

This is the kind of talent I don’t mind Illinois feeling out. He had 18 points and nine rebounds against some team called UConn in November. I don’t anticipate anything happening here, but if things start to happen, I will break down his game more.

(4/10/2023) Ware committed to Indiana

Kadin Shedrick – C, Virginia

Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Kadin Shedrick announced he was entering the portal on March 27th and per Stockriser’s Jake Weingarten, Illinois has reached out. Shedrick started 15 games for Virginia last year, including their win over the Illini in Las Vegas. He spent four years at Virginia but redshirted his freshman year, giving him two years of eligibility with the COVID year. If you’re sensing a theme, multiple year power five transfers are hot commodities and Shedrick has heard from Texas, Indiana, Gonzaga and Houston among others.

Shedrick is a very solid all-around big man at 6’11”. He shot 65% from two and about 80% from the free throw line. Virginia certainly doesn’t run the most high-octane offense, and Shedrick’s six points and four rebounds per game are certainly not glamorous. However, as I said he has a lot to his game that could be unlocked with a bigger role. As any player who plays for Tony Bennett, Shedrick is a strong defender. He had a 10% block rate.

Before Dain announced he was returning this would’ve made a lot of sense. However unless Shedrick is willing to wait for Coleman Hawkins to make a decision on the NBA Draft, the fit here is very tricky. Shedrick is likely going to want a clear path to minutes, which won’t be at Illinois. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Illini like him, but until the forecast is clearer, hard to see any smoke. I will break down his game some more if things seem sunnier.

(4/9/2023) Shedrick cut his list to Duke, Texas, Missouri, Kansas State and Xavier, meaning Illinois is no longer involved.

Justin Harmon – G, Utah Valley

Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Harmon announced he was entering the portal on April 3rd and tweeted that Illinois had offered him a scholarship. He has since deleted the tweet, but I think the smoke here is real. The Chicago native spent two years at Barton Community College in Kansas before making the jump to Utah Valley. After two years in Orem UT, Harmon will have one more year of eligibility. With Mark Madsen taking the Cal job, Utah Valley’s NIT semifinalist team is dripping into the portal.

Harmon averaged 14 points, about four rebounds and three assists per game last year. In their conference tournament and NIT run, Harmon averaged 20 points per game, with 32 against New Mexico, 18 against Colorado, and 17 against Cincinnati among other outings. I actually watched Harmon live when Utah Valley played at Seattle U in WAC play. He honestly didn’t stand out all that much until the very end where he closed the game with back-to-back dunks. At 6’4″ he has good size and shot 34% from three which would’ve been first on last year’s Illini (yikes). This is one that I think will look a lot better if he came in alongside a headliner, or as a supplementary piece if Hawkins or Shannon returns.

If the smoke gets back out in the open, I will break down Harmon’s fit more in depth.

(4/10/2023) Harmon committed to the Illini, I broke down his fit with Illinois here.

Javian McCollum – G, Siena

Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Javian McCollum announced he was entering the transfer portal on April 1st, and according to The Miami Hurricane’s Luke Chaney Illinois has reached out. Illinois became very familiar with Siena guards entering the Big Ten after Jalen Pickett booty ball’d his way into a three game sweep of the Illini last year. McCollum is a 6’2″ scorer, who will have two years of eligibility, and a long list of interest. Alongside Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Georgetown have reached out among others.

McCollum is a bucket getter, averaging 16 points per game last year for the Saints on 43% from the field, 36% from three and 89% from the line. He would very much replace what Jayden Epps would’ve brought to next year’s squad, with a shifty handle and ability to get two feet in the paint. McCollum lit up Ole Miss for 24 points and eight assists, and Florida State for 18 points and eight assists.

While he is a talented scorer, I can’t help but think after last year, Underwood will want more of a distributor at the one or at least not such a a scoring geared player. If Illinois gets hotter on this one, I will break down his game further.

(4/17/2023) McCollum cut his list to Oklahoma, Nebraska and South Florida, meaning he will not play at Illinois.

LJ Cryer – G, Baylor

Mandatory Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

After announcing he was entering the NBA Draft while maintaining eligibility, LJ Cryer announced he was entering the portal on April 3rd. Cryer was on Baylor’s NCAA championship team and stepped into a bigger role the two years after. Last year he averaged 15 points per game and was an All-Big 12 Selection for Baylor. Cryer was one of a couple of ball handlers at Baylor and will likely be looking to play primarily point guard at his next spot to better prepare for the NBA.

Since I originally listed Cryer in the ‘Previous Connections’ category, it has been confirmed the Illinois has contacted Cryer per ESPN’s Jeff Borzello. In an interview with 247Sports Dushawn London, Cryer mentioned Arkansas, Kansas State, and Houston by name. Illinois was included in the article, where Cryer said he wanted to play more point guard, but not just point guard. This fits the mold of a couple of Illinois players in Underwood’s time like Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu and Terrence Shannon Jr. Underwood also recruited him out of High School at Oklahoma State.

This one will likely take some time to take shape. Just about every team in the country has probably called Cryer, and he is well within his rights to wait for the best offer and opportunity. This might work in Illinois’ favor, as the possible return of Coleman Hawkins and/or Shannon Jr. will give the Illini a stronger pitch to the veteran guard.

(4/9/2023) Cryer committed to Houston

Abou Ousmane – C, North Texas

Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Abou Ousmane announced he was entering the portal on April 2nd, and according to Andrew Slater, Illinois has reached out. Ousmane spent the last three years at North Texas, giving him two years of eligibility with the COVID year. Ousmane has started every game for the Mean Green the last two years, averaging double digits scoring and six rebounds per game in those two years. At 6’10” shooting under 50% from two is a concerning stat, but Ousmane has improved his free throw percentage every year, including a 15% jump from 2021-22 to 2022-23.

Ousmane will provide a strong, experienced interior presence. As with all the bigs on this list, Illinois isn’t an optimal fit due to the return of Dainja and the pending decision from Hawkins. If Ousmane is willing to play a more limited role on a Power 5 team, this could be a match, and with his multiple years of eligibility would be a nice asset. However, Illinois is far from the only school in contact with him. Ousmane’s contact list includes LSU, Virginia, St. John’s and Xavier among others.

If this one heats up I will break his game down further.

(4/18/2023) Ousmane committed to Xavier

Damian Dunn – G, Temple

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Damien Dunn announced he was entering the portal on March 24th, and on Episode 610 of the Illini Inquirer Podcast Derek Piper mentioned Ryan as someone Illinois was tracking. Dunn didn’t list Illinois on his initial list of interest, but did list some heavyweights like UConn, Gonzaga, Miami, Tennessee and Auburn among others. He spent the last four years at Temple, meaning he will have his one COVID year wherever he goes.

Dunn is the prototypical big college guard. Able to get his shot off with ease, he averaged 15 points per game and shot 35% from deep on good volume. He’s an explosive scorer, with 30+ point performances against Cincinnati and Vanderbilt. Dunn averaged about as many turnovers as assists and won’t be a primary ball handler. However due to his size and shooting ability, he can punish defenders flying out at him by getting to the basket or midrange.

Illinois needs shooters and guards. Dunn fits both, and while he will be a one-year rental, but he fits the current returners well and can play next to anyone they get from the portal. If this one heats up I will get you guys a deeper breakdown.

(4/11/2023) Dunn committed to Houston.

Previous Connections

Keyshawn Hall – G/F, UNLV

Keyshawn Hall announced he was entering the portal on March 19th. Illinois had offered him when he was coming out of high school. He never visited, and never seemed like a big priority. He had a decent freshman year, averaging just over five points per game on over 10 minutes a game. Don’t expect any interest here.

Isaiah Barnes – G/F, Michigan

Isaiah Barnes announced he was entering the portal on March 19th. Barnes held an Illinois offer coming out of high school. Barnes chose to join Michigan instead, where he has been unable to crack the rotation ahead of the Wolverines steady pipeline of NBA wings. Would be surprised to see interest here either way, as Barnes will want somewhere he will play a lot.

Enoch Boakye – C, Arizona State

Enoch Boakye announced he was entering the portal on March 21st. Boakye held an Illinois offer coming out of high school, and apparently was very close to committing to Illinois before deciding on ASU. Boakye was the 31st rated player in the 2021 class, but never cut the rotation in Tempe. He played just 3 minutes per game last year. Illinois has no confirmed interest here, but depending on the movement in the frontcourt for the Illini, perhaps they could come back around on this one.

Rafael Pinzon – G, St. John’s

Rafael Pinzon announced he was entering the portal on March 22nd. Rick Pitino made it clear that there would be attrition at St. John’s, and Pinzon is the first to hop in the portal. The Puerto Rican held an offer from the Illini in high school. He was high school teammates with Andre Curbelo at Long Island Lutheran in New York and reunited with Curbelo at St. John’s. At 6’6″ Pinzon is a big shooter, but I do not foresee Illinois pursuing here.

Brandon Murray – G, Georgetown

Brandon Murray announced he was entering the portal on March 26th. With Patrick Ewing leaving Georgetown, there will likely be an exodus as Ed Cooley will bring in his own players. This leaves Murray in a tricky position. He could very well have to sit a year if he cannot get a waiver. If he can, I would expect Illinois to kick the tires on this one. They finished in Murray’s final three in his first transfer from LSU. This will be another hot one if he can get a waiver.

Andre Curbelo – G, St. John’s

El Mago! After just one tumultuous year in New York, Andre Curbelo is back in the portal. As mentioned above, Rick Pitino wasn’t vague about the returning roster at St. John’s with Curbelo as the latest casualty. Curbelo responded to a tweet speculating on Illinois interest before deleting it, but I don’t see this one happening. The way things ended were just too sloppy and emotional. I really hope Curbelo can get his career back on track, because he is a special entertainer, and a pretty good ball player when he’s locked in.

Hunter Dickinson – C, Michigan

In the shock of the early portal season, Hunter Dickinson entered the portal on March 31st. The Michigan center is infamously winless against the Illini but is nonetheless a mammoth college talent. Illinois fans won’t soon forget Dickinson’s villainy in the conference, and with Dainja returning this isn’t the most logical fit. Illinois has deep pockets but not endless, and if they want to pursue headliners on the perimeter, it may be hard to shell out the necessary NIL dollars to lure Dickinson across the rivalry line.

David Jones – F, St. John’s

David Jones announced he was entering the portal on May 4th. As you can see, there is a massive exodus in Queens. Illinois had interest in Jones out of High School, as well as when he entered the portal from DePaul last year. This is his second transfer, so he will need to sit out a year or get a waiver. We still have yet to see how difficult that will be. Jones is a rangy 6’6″ jack of all trades master of none. Even outside of the waiver issue, I don’t see Illinois getting involved here with Ty Rodgers already on the roster.

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.