The Illinois basketball program landed a top 20 class for 2020, but it is two transfer wings who are raring to go after a redshirt season.
While the exile of Illini players Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones was unknown at the time of their commitments, both Austin Hutcherson and Jacob Grandison were pegged as eventual contributors after rising from their respective levels of college basketball and arriving in Champaign.
Hutcherson played two full seasons at Division III, Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut. In his first collegiate season, Hutcherson was the New England Small College Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year after starting 26 games while shooting over 44-percent from deep.
In year two, Hutcherson was a first-team All-League selection and led his conference in scoring, three-point percentage, free throw percentage and scored in all double figures in every game besides one. With full plans to return to Wesleyan for a junior season and then make a jump, attention started flooding in, and Hutcherson decided he was ready to make the leap.
By year four, it seems as though Brad Underwood has finally built a roster of his own selected players with an already constructed identity. The guard play has been there. The big man rotation is now coming together with better depth and a higher talent level than ever in the Underwood era. The wing play has been inconsistent and mediocre at best.
In comes Austin Hutcherson.
To preface, outside of Adam Miller, I believe that Hutcherson will make the biggest impact of any new face this season. Underwood has cited repeatedly that Hutcherson is the best athlete on the team. The shooting numbers provided optimism from the minute he signed to Illinois, but the excerpts out of the coaching staff regarding Hutcherson’s length, activity and vertical ability should infuse a heightened level of upside on the wing.
Diving into his game and what the Illini nation will see, Hutcherson projects as a guy who will provide stability on both ends of the floor. Shooting translates but when one hears of taking a commitment from a Division III shooter, the instant reaction might be how is he going to stay on the floor defensively if he’s just a shooter?
I think Hutcherson’s athletic prowess should pay dividends on the defensive end with an ability to guard three positions. His frame was narrow upon arrival in Champaign but told Front Office Gurus he’s already up 15 pounds after his redshirt campaign.
Secondly, for those who are limiting their expectations because of the DIII label, the NESCAC is absolutely no joke. New England basketball is home to a ton of talented players and is certainly the best or second-best conference at that level.
Shooting is the name of the game in modern basketball. Floor spacers allow for coaches to infuse their creativity into a roster. With two of the top returning players in college basketball in Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, all eyes will be on them.
Floor spacing consistency will fall on the shoulders of Trent Frazier, Adam Miller and none other than Hutcherson and Grandison. It would not be a surprise to come out of this season with a firm belief that Hutcherson is the most talented, consistent pure shooter on the roster.
My top comparison for Hutcherson is Chris Duarte, a senior at Oregon with a rising NBA trajectory. A crafty handling ability with subtle burst on a deadly first step makes his near 50-40-90 shooting capability even more dangerous. A three-level scorer with natural shot-creating ability in combination with developed defensive instincts. Hutcherson will have to catch up with the pace of play and physicality but should be given time to adjust because there is no doubt his peak potential within the Illini system could make all the difference between four “off” nights in Big Ten play where the offense stalls and just one night.
Hutcherson has the keys to open up both the offense and defense to a ton of versatility. It just comes down to when he can put it together, and if you can not tell, I am adamant it will be sooner than later.
9.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game