CHAMPAIGN — Following an informal, player-led workout without the Illinois basketball coaches present at the Ubben Basketball Complex, Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Giorgi Bezhanshvili, Tyler Underwood and Kipper Nichols went to mid-court.
The Illinois basketball players faced towards a crowd that lined the upper deck to say "thank you for coming out."
But the decision to go to the middle of the court had another purpose. The players brought forward TJ Holyfield and initiated their own ovation for the former Stephen F. Austin forward as he approached mid-court from the sidelines. Once the ovation began, the fans in the complex followed suit.
Dosunmu, who looks noticeably more muscular following his freshman season, was instrumental in beginning a "Tee-Jay" chant which rang throughout Ubben.
It was all in an effort to land Holyfield for his final year of college eligibility as a graduate transfer. He was on his official visit to the program.
Holyfield announced in March that he would transfer from Stephen F. Austin and use his final year of eligibility as a graduate transfer elsewhere. He has since narrowed his list to three schools: Illinois, Texas Tech and Kansas. He has already visited Texas Tech and Kansas, giving the Illini the final pitch to land him. He's a 6-foot-8, 227-pound power forward who could give the Illini a bit of versatility and drastically improve the front court.
Illinois struggled defending the post last season, particularly when freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili went to the bench. Oftentimes Aaron Jordan or Kipper Nichols were tasked with working in the paint as under-sized big men. Underwood and Co. have already addressed the height concerns this offseason with the signing of four-star big man Kofi Cockburn and a verbal commitment from Bernard Kouma, who has yet to sign his National Letter of Intent. Illinois previously has a verbal commitment from power forward Antwan January who de-committed last week and signed with New Mexico.
Underwood recruited Holyfield to Stephen F. Austin out of high school, and he started every game for Underwood as a true freshman before Underwood left for a one-year stint Oklahoma State. Holyfield played three seasons at SFA and missed last year because of a shoulder injury.
As a junior in 2017-18, he averaged 12.9 points. 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point land. He looks like he possesses the skills to also play from the small forward spot for the Illini to a small-ball center, providing more versatility to the team entering Underwood's third year with the program.
With the addition of Cockburn and the potential additions of Holyfield and Kouma, the Illinois front court looks much for formidable. No players from last season's team have announced their intent to transfer and guard Ayo Dosunmu announced he would not enter his name into the NBA Draft and instead return to Champaign for his sophomore year.
Illinois was 12-21 last season and 7-13 in Big Ten play.