Jeremy Werner // Illini Inquirer

Fact or Fiction: Illini will have 13 scholarship players to start 2017-18 season

The Illini have four open scholarships on the roster. Will they fill them by next season?

FICTION. The subtraction of D.J. Williams from the equation on Monday leaves Illinois with just nine scholarship players in line to arrive for workouts next month.

Williams had plans to leave the program if John Groce remained as the head coach. There was friction between the two parties that dated back to November when Williams' mom voiced frustrations on Twitter. Williams took a brief leave of absence in January, and he did not play in 16 of the final 19 games of the season.

Once Brad Underwood was hired, Williams considered staying on board. Illinois wanted to see how he looked in workouts, and the word is that he made strides down the stretch of the three-week slate. But ultimately, the fit wasn't there. And it may be for the best for both parties.

It's not like Illinois was in need of another spot to fill. Although, there is no question Underwood's staff would like to have plenty of mobility to make moves in the 2018 class. Williams' spot is now available for that purpose.

But what about next season? Illinois has six returning scholarship players. They currently have three incoming freshmen with Mark Smith, Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams. That leaves four spots to fill.

The Illini thought they had Bishop Miege (Kan.) 2017 forward Francesco Badocchi. And apparently, Badocchi thought so as well. He was planning on going to Illinois until family influences swayed him in the other direction at the final hour.

Illinois was looking into Old Tappan (N.J.) 2017 wing Justin Minaya, who played the spring live periods with the New Jersey Playaz on the EYBL circuit. The Illini watched him and extended a late offer. But Minaya took an official visit to South Carolina last weekend, and according to a report by The State, he will decide between attending South Carolina as a 2017 signee or going to Brewster Academy (N.H.) and remaining open in the 2018 class.

So who's left? The Illini are in the final six with Wright State grad transfer guard Mark Alstork. He is very high on the wish list after averaging 19 points per game last season. Illinois needs scorers who can take and make shots. Alstork brings that, and he is also an option that doesn't take away from the 2018 class.

Alstork visited Pittsburgh over the weekend. He began a visit at Georgetown on Monday. The Illini will host him for an official visit on Thursday and Friday. Afterwards, he has plans to visit South Carolina, LSU and Louisville.

That will be a tough one to pull off. And regardless of how it turns out, Illinois needs to get a big man. Can't hold your breath on Jeremiah Tilmon coming back home. That situation is messy, although there isn't enough clarity at this point in time to eliminate the possibility. One thing is sure: Illinois isn't wasting time trying to bang down that door. What else can they do?

Meanwhile, the Illini will bring in Georgetown grad transfer Akoy Agau on Thursday along with Alstork. Agau averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 15 minutes per game last season. He is a good athlete with length at 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, who can also provide experience, rebounding and some defensive capabilities. According to a source, SMU, Northwestern and Maryland are also involved. It appears that SMU is a big player. Another interesting note on Agau is that he could potentially have two years of eligibility if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver from his time at Louisville.

Pittsburgh grad transfer Rozelle Nix is another name that could be on the radar late in the game. He is a big body at 6-foot-11, 300 pounds. He averaged 1.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 6.3 minutes per game last season. One hang-up on Nix is that he won't graduate until the summer, so he can't enroll and join his new team until August.

The Illini hope a few more names come out for bigs on the grad transfer market. One they were waiting for was Marin Maric from Northern Illinois, who averaged more than 14 points and eight boards last season. But he was scooped up by DePaul. New assistant Shane Heirman coached him at La Lumiere and that connection paid dividends.

Illinois has another move in mind as well. They would love to bring on four-star small forward Ignas Brazdeikis from Athlete Institute up in Canada. Brazdeikis is currently a 2018 recruit playing with the CIA Bounce on the EYBL circuit. But like former Bounce alums Jamal Murray and Dillon Brooks, Brazdeikis could reclass after the AAU season.

Underwood and the Illini staff were all over him during the final live period, and they offered him a scholarship. They would take him in 2017 or 2018, but ideally, they are planning to swipe him up in July when other programs don't have openings and immediate opportunity to sell. He would be an absolutely huge addition.

As it stands, Illinois would like to add Alstork, Agau (or another grad big) and Brazdeikis for next season. Alstrok would be an high-impact performer, and Brazdeikis is ready to step right in and play as well. Meanwhile, Agau would give Underwood more to work with in the frontcourt.

That would give the Illini 12 scholarship players for next year. Even if Agua gets two years, that setup would also leave a pair of spots open for the 2018 class. Don't be surprised if it turns out to be three. The Illinois staff is bullish on the possibilities in that class.

Illinois is doing very well early on with five-star lead guard Ayo Dosunmu, and they are positioning to get either Tim Finke or Talen Horton-Tucker on the wing. They have options that they are working outside the state borders as well.

At the end of the day, it is difficult to add quality players for next season this late in the game -- let alone four of them. And Underwood has been clear that he will not reach on anyone just to fill the spot. Smart move.

Illinois doesn't have any graduating seniors on next season's team. So you have to factor in the available spots as collective in regards to the 2018 class -- with the exception of grad transfers. The staff is doing what they can on that front. And if there are enough Big Ten-caliber grad transfers that want to hop on board, Illinois will take them.

But overall, this isn't a one-year project. Growing pains will come with that if some needs can't be filled. The plan is bigger than that, though. And thus, there's a good chance you won't see 13 scholarship players in uniform when Underwood coaches his first game in Champaign.

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