Brad Underwood, Illini Players Postgame Press Conference

March 15, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

CHICAGO – Illinois’ season ended with an 83-62 loss to Iowa Thursday here at the Big Ten Tournament. Following the game, the Illini let with the media.

Here’s what they had to say:

 

BRAD UNDERWOOD: Well, commend Iowa. Iowa
was terrific tonight. They were the better basketball
team.

Tonight they were a tough match-up for us. Tyler Cook
posed some problems. I thought defensively after the
first four minutes of the game, we did some good
things in the first half, but we turned it over too many
times, 15, and again, they’ve been really good, 12 of
23. We’re one of the top 20 teams in three-point field
goal percentage defense, and yet you would never
know that when we play Iowa.

Very, very proud of these two guys. They’ve had a
great freshman year. Three of our top four scorers
tonight were freshmen. Had a sophomore in there.
And as I told this group, tonight was an ending, but I
loved coaching this team each and every day. This is
the beginning of bringing Illinois basketball back, and
these two guys, I couldn’t have asked for anything
more, not just in terms of what their play was but as
who they are as people. And now the best thing that
we get to do is have an off-season.

You know, I think when you look at bodies of Big Ten
teams and you look at ours, you know that that’s an
area that we’re excited to head into. But yeah, I’m
proud. We had a great year. We played a very difficult
schedule, and heading into the off-season with this
group is something that excites me a great deal as we
head into the future.

Q. Two-part question: Will each of you be back?
And if so, what are you envisioning in terms of
what success might look like next year?

GIORGI BEZHANISHVILI: Yeah, definitely will be back.
A lot of work has to be done in the off-season, a goal —
there is a lot of goals, personal goals, team goals. We
have to sit back and look at everything. But just a lot of
work in the off-season, that’s the goal, as much work
as I can personally and as a team.

AYO DOSUNMU: Yeah, I mean, we’ve got to get better
as a team and just focus on little details. I mean, it’ll be
good. We’ve got new guys coming in, so we’ve got to
try to get better as a team.

Q. They obviously had two really good offensive
games when they played you guys this year. What
do they do offensively that makes them so difficult
to guard?

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GIORGI BEZHANISHVILI: They’re just a smart team.
When you make a mistake, they make you pay every
time. When we made a mistake tonight, they made us
pay. They’re a great shooting team. Obviously we saw
they made a lot of shots. As I said, when you make a
mistake, they make you pay, and that’s what they did,
and that was the game.

Q. It was a lot of fun to watch you develop
throughout the course of the season. Just curious
what memories you guys will take away from this
experience this year.

AYO DOSUNMU: Memories, it’s tough. I feel like we
had an up-and-down season, but I’m just going to
remember us fighting as hard as we can each and
every day. A lot of people didn’t expect us to win as
many games as we did. We shocked a lot of teams.
So just playing each and every game as hard as we
can, that’s what I’ll remember the most.

GIORGI BEZHANISHVILI: I mean, as he said, we
fought every time. We had a tough, tough year, but we
never quit. We stuck together. We are really like
brothers right now. If you see the locker room, you can
tell that we are really brothers.

It’s a special group, really a special group. We had a
tough year. But as I said, we fought. We stayed
together, and that’s the beautiful part of it.
That’s just a beautiful brotherhood right there; that’s the
family.

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Q. Coach, you had a pretty big roster turnover at
the end of last year, and you talked about
establishing a new culture. With this group, do you
feel like the culture has been established to the
point that you feel that roster continuity is
important heading into next year?

BRAD UNDERWOOD: Yeah, absolutely. I think that
there’s — we have guys — I love coaching this team
every day, and we have guys that work and guys that
put in the time and got better. It would have been very
easy to — for this team to fold it up and not compete
and yet, as each one of those guys said, they stayed
together.

They’re close friends. Some of them are — maybe
didn’t have the years that they came in expecting to
have, but that’s part of the process. And yet the
character piece is in place, and the future is very, very
bright.

You throw Andres Feliz in here, who had a sensational
year, a junior college transfer, and we saw glimpses of
Tevi and Alan Griffin, those guys are going to be good
players. Like I said, the best thing about now is we get
an off-season.

Q. I know the stories of a season are told not on
paper, but as you look at the actual final record, are
you taken aback by it based on what you expected
going in, and can there be in this case a drastic
change from one year to the very next?

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BRAD UNDERWOOD: Oh, I don’t think there’s any
doubt. I’m not concerned about the record. The
record — everybody wants to win. For us, this was —
this in essence — it was year two of my contract, it was
year one. I mean, we were trying to establish — we got
through the first year, and then this year was about
establishing an identity and a culture, and that’s the
way I’ve approached it.

Coincidentally, we had the toughest schedule in the Big
Ten. We had the second toughest schedule in the
country, with a team that, truth be told, wasn’t ready for
that. And yet it’s — we fought, we’ll grow. You have to
go through the process to become great. And part of
that is the work, part of that is the struggle. It’s the
grind. We’ve been through all of that.

Next year is a new year. You keep adding the right
pieces, you’ve got your culture established now. The
little things, going to class and the work we put in the
weight room and being on time and all the little pieces
and little things, those things are in place now. Now we
can continue to grow as a basketball program.

I’ve said it many times; I don’t want good teams. I want
a great program, and there’s a big difference. Illinois is
one of the top 10 programs in the country, and we’re
well on our way to making those strides to get there.

Q. Do you feel like the five fouls in the first minute
and a half of the second period set the tone for rest
of the half?

BRAD UNDERWOOD: Didn’t help. Didn’t help.

Q. Did you feel at all that playing last night
bothered you guys at all in the second half, the
legs or anything like that?

BRAD UNDERWOOD: Not at all. Not at all. We go
hard every day in practice. Our guys are in really good
shape, and I thought — if anything I thought it could be
an advantage. But there’s no — there’s nothing to that.
I think that was just Iowa being a better basketball
team tonight and causing us some problems that we
couldn’t overcome.

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