CHAMPAIGN – When athletic director Josh Whitman got him to depart Oklahoma State after just a season back in 2017, his hope was that campaigns like the one taking place now were in the Illini’s future.
There were certainly times where the rebuilding of the program was going slow, with a significant amount of player turnover and a fair share of losses, but the faith in Brad Underwood has been rewarded in 2019-2020.
At 20-9 on the season, Illinois is headed for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013, ending a difficult drought for a proud basketball program.
As a reward, Whitman is giving Underwood a little extra security moving forward.
The athletic director announced that the coach has received a three-year extension on his initial contract, giving him security at Illinois through 2026. The deal also extended his assistant coach’s contracts with the school through 2022.
“I am extremely pleased with the upward trajectory of our Fighting Illini men’s basketball program and believe we are headed toward a championship future,” said Whitman in a statement released by the University. “Under Coach Underwood’s leadership, our student-athletes have showed steady progress on the court and in the classroom. He has instilled a culture based on competitiveness, toughness, preparation, and accountability that is yielding exciting results.
“His ability to project a vision for the program’s future, to recruit elite players to Champaign-Urbana, and to develop them into a winning team has exceeded even my admittedly high expectations at this relatively early stage in his tenure. Perhaps most importantly, I have enjoyed seeing the bonds formed between players and players and players and coaches, all of whom care deeply about one another, who are committed to their collective successes, and who support each other, on the court and off, in victory and defeat.”
Underwood took over the program from John Groce, who was let go following another NCAA Tournament-less season in 2017. Illinois struggled in his first two years, as many expected, with the Illini going 26-39 with an 11-27 Big Ten record.
This year has been the best for Underwood as a number of his recruits, especially Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, had led to a resurgence in the program. Illinois had the lead in the Big Ten at times in late January and early February and shook off a mid-conference season slump to post a 12-6 record in the league with two games remaining.