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Should Dain Dainja Start for Illinois Basketball?



Illinois Basketball's Most Overlooked Piece
Dec 29, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini forward Dain Dainja (42) drives ball past Bethune-Cookman Wildcats center Dylan Robertson (22) during the first half at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Should Dain Dainja Start for Illinois Basketball?

Illinois Basketball has some kinks to iron out. That is evident after a 9 point victory against the Madrid All-stars to start their Spain Exhibition tour. The score may not tell the full story, however the box score had some items jump out. First off, the 3-pt shooting was incredibly poor. Though this is a small sample size, Illinois Basketball did not do anyone any favors with that performance. They were incredibly poor from beyond the arc last season, and tried their hand at improving in that regard. Going 3-25 does not calm anyone down. Terrence Shannon Jr and Coleman Hawkins went 0-10 from the 3pt arc.

The positives are headlined by Dain Dainja’s dominant performance. Dainja had 16 points and 15 rebounds in 19 minutes. Though the size is probably hard to compare to the Big Ten, Dainja’s performance brings up a solid question. Should the skilled big fella start?

Arguing yes.

Dainja started off the year very well. His insertion to the starting lineup was a catalyst behind Illinois saving their season. Dainja played great Drop-coverage defense and was a reliable post presence. His presence gave the offense a go-to avenue on a team that lacked fluency and offensive creation. To be honest, I think this year’s team is in a similar boat. The point guard situation is well known, however there is so much on Ty Rodgers’ shoulders. Again, a small sample size, but that was shown in the box score. Rodgers had 2 assists and 3 turnovers. Secondary creators, Shannon Jr had 5 turnovers, Sencire Harris had 3 and Hawkins had 3.

I personally think that Dain Dainja can provide an easy bucket in the post and in Pick and roll’s. He can give the team an avenue to play through. On a true point guard-less team, that is imperative.

Arguing No.

If you start Dainja, the risk runs of having two non-shooters on the floor. Rodgers has shown that he is not a perimeter threat at all. Adding Dain to that really packs the paint and closes off driving lanes for Terrence Shannon Jr and Coleman Hawkins. Additionally, someone needs to be a Big fella off the bench. If Dain starts, the backup big men are likely Quincy Guerrier or Amani Hansberry as the backup five.

Overall, Ty Rodgers is not effective outside of eight feet. Rodgers, however, can rebound well enough with Coleman Hawkins in the starting lineup to offset a “smaller” lineup. Additionally, defensive versatility is theoretically better with someone like Coleman Hawkins at the five.


Alex is the Owner of, your go-to source for in depth coverage of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Alex is a Resident Physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for Northwestern Medicine and has had articles featured in top media publications like Bleacher Report, YardBarker, Verbal Commits, CBS sports and more.