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Southern U Illinois Basketball

Illinois head coach Brad Underwood watches from the sideline during an Illini game last season. Underwood has high hopes heading into his second season in Champaign.

CHAMPAIGN – If the Illini have a chance to grab junior college point guard Andres Feliz while he’s on campus this weekend, they should jump with both feet, both hands and a landing net.

Coach Brad Underwood wants a savvy point guard to add to his growing stable of shot-makers, ball-handlers and floor-runners and while Courtney Ramey of Webster Groves, Mo., is an enviable target, the pace of his recruitment is moving slowly.

Illinois would love to have him but probably can’t afford to wait. Not if Feliz, called by the No. 1 junior college point guard in the country, wants to commit right now.

Feliz is taking his official campus visit this weekend someone who knows the player and his history said something very telling about a guy who looks, acts and plays beyond his years. “That kid has been playing with grown men his whole life,” he said. “And he’s great in the locker room.”

Feliz is from the Dominican Republic. So is Illini assistant coach Orlando Antigua, who recruited Feliz when he was head coach at South Florida.

So Antiqua knows all about Feliz having played in at least three international competitions including the 2015 Pan American Games.

Anyone who has seen Feliz will tell you he has a quick burst and the ability to change speeds, all the while looking for open teammates. He can get to the rim and can shoot the ball well enough to be a perimeter threat as well.

Underwood went to see him last month in Hutchinson, Kan., at the NJCAA Tournament. In his final game of the quarterfinals, Feliz made 11 of 19 shots, scored 28 points and added 11 rebounds and five steals.

It’s a dreamy three-guard backcourt to envision Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu and Andres Feliz running Brad Underwood’s offense with Kipper Nichols and a big man, should Underwood want to go that direction, or with Aaron Jordan or Tevian Jones or Da’Monte Williams or Alan Griffin.

Griffin, one of five incoming freshmen, is listed at 6-5 and looks every bit of that, maybe taller. He’s long and lean, one of those smooth gliders who was named Player of the Year in New York. He blossomed late in his senior year, which is why schools like Syracuse and Seton Hall are a bit late to the party and have scrambled like crazy to try to get him to change his mind on the Illini.

Years of watching Illini recruiting reminds us to be cautious in assessing a class.

A verbal commitment means nothing. Wednesday opens the spring signing period when a player’s pledge means more.

Then we wait for them to actually show up on campus and reach the start of the season healthy. Then there’s a period of on-court evaluation to see if our eyes tell us a player is as good as advertised.

Remember what happened last season.

There was hope that charismatic Trent Frazier could help out as a freshman. He started slowly, then hit his stride and became one of the best freshmen in the Big Ten.

There was a greater degree of expectation tied to the arrival of Mark Smith, the Mr. Basketball winner from Edwardsville.

In retrospect, it was probably an unfair level of expectation but given the schools who lined up to pursue him (Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, many more), it was understandable.

He started quickly, then seemed to lose his way and his confidence. By mid-season, people were questioning the original evaluation.

And as soon as the season ended, he announced his intention to transfer.

So let’s give time and space to do a more cautions evaluation of what appears to be a very strong recruiting class that Underwood and his staff have assembled to arrive this summer.

I attended a practice Saturday at which Trent Frazier looked better than ever, ripping 3s with ease. Kipper Nichols, Aaron Jordan and Da’Monte Williams looked good, too, while Antigua put big man Greg Eboigbodin through some drills.

The fun starts when this new class arrives. Hopefully Andres Feliz will be a part of it.

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Sports Columnist

Sports columnist for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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