News Local/State

Illini Men’s Basketball To Play EIU In Charleston For Hurricane Relief

Illinois mens' basketball coach Brad Underwood.

Illinois men's basketball head coach Brad Underwood at illini Media Day 2017. Vashoune Russell/Illinois Public Media

The Illini men's basketball team will travel to Charleston Friday night for a public scrimmage against the Eastern Illinois Panthers. It's an NCAA-exempt event, with all proceeds aiding American Red Cross disaster relief efforts.

New Illinois head coach Brad Underwood says recent hurricanes hit the Illini family close to home.

“Having lived in Florida, having been through three of them, I have a tremendous appreciation for what those people are still going through”, said Underwood. “Having been to Puerto Rico and Orlando, our staff has family that live there --- that’s impacted so many.”

Underwood wanted to take advantage of the NCAA's special allowance of an exempt scrimmage for charity, which he said must be played within a limited distance from campus. But he wanted to do it away from home.

So Underwood called an old acquaintance from the college coaching fraternity, Eastern Illinois men’s basketball head coach Jay Spoonhour.

When this opportunity came about, there was also tremendous excitement on my part to get our guys in uniform, get them in front of a crowd”, said Underwood. “And I didn’t want to do it here. I wanted to show our fans, hey we’re going to go to places that we’re not normally at. I called Jay, and Jay was on all board and talked with to his people. And administratively, they put it together in a hurry.

Like most pre-season exhibitions, the scrimmage won't necessarily follow a game format, and Underwood won't try to compete so much as learn more about his team. He said he wants to see how various groups of five fare against an unfamiliar opponent.

Underwood added that he might even play all five freshmen at once. That means American guards Trent Frazier, Mark Smith and Da'Monte Williams with international big men Greg Eboigbodin and Matic Vesel.

Sophomore point guard Te'Jon Lucas said the newcomers all bring different skills to the table:

“Da’Monte’s been really great on the ball, defenderwise. He’s shown he can defend, with Mark Smith being great slashing through the hoop, finishing”, said Lucas. “Greg’s been great rebounding, blocking shots, he did a great job at Vanderbilt hitting shots. Matic is a passer, just a little quiet guy” – Matic is actually 6’9” --- “but he still gets the job done. So I think they all bring something a little bit different style to the game. I’m excited for them all. 

The scrimmage tips at 7 p.m. at Lantz Arena, in Charleston. Tickets are sold out.