Illini building a bond with 2018 target DJ Stewart

Illinois offered 2018 wing DJ Stewart this week after watching him on the EYBL circuit.

The Illini are on the lookout for high-caliber athletes for Brad Underwood's system, and they found one they liked on the EYBL circuit in 6-foot-6 forward DJ Stewart from Mississippi.

Underwood and assistant Orlando Antigua sat courtside to watch Stewart on Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis. Illini assistant Chin Coleman has gotten looks at him as well, and Illinois pulled the trigger on an offer for Stewart this week.

"I was very excited when Illinois called and offered me," Stewart said. "Coach Coleman is a great guy. We've been talking the last couple days and I really like what they have and what they're building."

"He said he wants to get to know me first as a person and then as a player. He likes my athleticism and what I bring to the game. My playing style would fit the University of Illinois. And I'm looking for the best fit."

Stewart is averaging 11.2 points per game on the circuit thus far, while shooting 41 percent from the field. He closed out last weekend with three straight games in double figures, but he's not satisfied. 

"I'm adjusting to the playing style and the competition. It's my first time playing on the EYBL circuit. Still trying to get the feel of it," Stewart said. "I feel like I can play a lot better."

Stewart's high school numbers show that. He averaged 19 points and 10 boards per game as a junior at Riverside (Miss.). He has high-level athleticism to go along with a relentless motor and a very capable outside jumper with a lefty stroke -- despite struggling to find a rhythm with it on the circuit thus far.

Nevertheless, his flashes of upside have been enough to attract plenty of attention this spring. In addition to Illinois, Stewart has received recent offers from the likes of Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Western Kentucky.

"The recruiting process has been exciting," Stewart said. "I haven't gotten this kind of attention before."

He talked about what it meant to get offers from SEC programs like Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

"It was exciting," he said. "It was a great feeling to have great programs offer me close to home."

Stewart will take an unofficial visit to Ole Miss this weekend, and he has a visit slotted to Alabama in June. The Illini will likely be working to get in that mix as well.

Underwood looks for athletes who have a will to play hard, and Stewart fits that profile.

"I love to compete," he said. "I play like every game is my last game. I play hard. Don't take plays off."

"I bring athleticism and I bring energy to the team. I play defense. And I'm a playmaker. I try to make plays for myself and the team."

Stewart has been working on his jumper.

"I've been working on my mid-range. Taking it off the dribble and pull-up. One dribble, two dribble pull-up. And my catch and shoot," he said. "Got to be a knockdown shooter."

He looks up to Utah Jazz lefty and fellow Mississippi native Rodney Hood in that way. Hood's brother, Ricky Hood Jr., is Stewart's AAU coach for the Mississippi Express.

And when the Express take the court in Atlanta for the third EYBL session, Stewart will come out with even more to prove.

"I've been working. I've been in the gym every day to get better," he said. "Next time out there, I'm ready to show what I really can do."

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