New Illini assistant Orlando Antigua has begun putting his reputable recruiting prowess and connections to use for the Orange and Blue, and that includes an early pursuit of high-upside 2019 big man Aidan Igiehon at Woodmere Academy (N.Y.).
The 6-foot-10 center was an absolute monster as a sophomore with 21 points and 17 rebounds per game, and he has had some impressive moments playing against top-notch competition on the EYBL 17U circuit this spring.
Igiehon posted 18 points and seven rebounds in the first EYBL session against Cal Supreme's down-low duo of five-star 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol and top-50 power forward Shareef O'Neal. That certainly caught some attention during the live period, and he most recently had a strong showing of 19 points and nine rebounds in the opener of the EYBL session in Atlanta.
"My game is definitely getting better. I'm getting more comfortable playing at this high level," Igiehon said. "I'm running the floor better. I'm rebounding better. I'm dominating above the rim. And I'm starting to expand my game to 15-to-18 feet."
Igiehon has outstanding athleticism with a high motor and an ability to run the floor. He hits the glass hard and he will throw it down with authority.
"I don't think there are too many big guys in the country who can run and jump like he can," New York Lightning co-director Dana Dingle said.
Dingle talked about Igiehon's development this spring.
"His confidence level, in terms of playing against elite players, has increased -- as well as his strength. Now that he's realized that he can play with the best of them, it's helped his confidence and his development," Dingle said. "In high school, he dominated the competition but it wasn't high-level competition. So he wanted to see where he stood against the elite level, which I knew he could do because he's an elite athlete."
As for improvement, Igiehon said he is focused on improving his jumper and becoming more skilled. In terms of rebounding and finishing, Igiehon looks up to Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. But for his overall skill set, Igiehon said he really likes to study New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis.
Therein lies a connection to Antigua, who coached and developed Davis -- among other future NBA bigs -- at Kentucky. Antigua also has a connection to Dingle, who he played with at St. Raymond High School in the Bronx in the early '90s.
"We have a good relationship. We played high school together. He's a hard worker and a great recruiter, and that's going to continue," Dingle said. "He was at Kentucky for some time and then the head coach at USF. I believe in what he brings to the table. He developed some big guys at Kentucky. That's what he does. He's good with the kids. He's an honest guy. And he works hard and he knows what he's doing."
Antigua hasn't gotten the opportunity to talk with Igiehon yet, but he will next month once the contact period begins for upcoming juniors. Illinois has been in contact with Dingle quite often thus far.
"Once they got to see him in Virginia and Indiana up close and personal, that's when it really took off. They really love him and they think he has a shot to do a lot of big things," Dingle said of Illinois. "They figured if they get in early now, they'd have a better chance -- being one of the first high-majors to offer and being really sincere about him. They're just starting and they're trying to build that program up."
"It was very nice to that they offered me," Igiehon said. "I don't know much about them yet, though."
Arizona, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John's, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Villanova and Xavier are others on the offer list to this point -- according to Dingle.
"He has a ton of schools. Pretty much any and everybody who's laid their eyes on him have offered," Dingle said. "The only ones really left are the blue bloods. But he's actually had some of the blue bloods keep an eye on him already."
Igiehon mentioned North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky as offers that he'd like to get down the line. But it will be about fit when it's all said and done.
"Got to make sure it's the best fit. He's a high-academic kid. And he wants to find the right style of play. Somewhere where they get up and down the floor, and they use their bigs," Dingle said. "That's what he's looking for what right now. He's not interested in any particular location. He just wants the best fit for him."
"What's important to me is how a team implements the big men on offense and defense. On offense, do they use their big men as an offensive threat or do they just use them to set screens? That's a big part that I always watch," Igiehon said. "Also, just the history of the program and how successful their big men are. And obviously, my relationship with the coach."
Look for Antigua to work hard on that one starting next month. He will share Igiehon's vision for his game and where he wants to go. Additionally, he will be able to relate to his experience of being an immigrant in New York with a hoop dream.
Igiehon is a native of Ireland, who lives in the Brooklyn area with his aunt and uncle. His mom still resides in Ireland. Antigua moved to New York with his parents from the Domincan Republic.
The Illini brought Antigua in to extend the program's reach both geographically and talent-wise to fast-track it for success. Getting a player like Igiehon to make his next move be to Champaign fits into the realm of that ultimate goal.