Illini reportedly in the mix for high-profile transfers Charlie Moore and Carlton Bragg Jr.

Illini reportedly in the mix for high-profile transfers Charlie Moore and Carlton Bragg Jr.

After losing two members of what was a top-15 recruiting class, Illinois could finally be getting some good news on the roster-construction front.

According to reports, a pair of high-profile transfers, Cal point guard Charlie Moore and Kansas big man Carlton Bragg Jr., could both wind up with the Illini.

Illinois was described as a likely landing spot for Moore, while Bragg has the Illini in his final five choices.

Both players would have to sit out the 2017-18 season, new head coach Brad Underwood's first, per NCAA transfer rules. But both would have multiple years of eligibility remaining after that, good news for the orange and blue should either or both decide to continue their collegiate careers in Champaign.

Moore, a Chicago native and Morgan Park product, was ranked by Rivals as the No. 55 recruit in the Class of 2016. He picked Cal over Illinois and plenty of other offers, and as a true freshman last season he started 34 games and averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists per game.

Last week Moore announced he was transferring from Cal to be close to home and his ailing father.

Bragg, a 6-foot-10 big man from Cleveland, was the No. 21 recruit in the Class of 2015, per Rivals. Bragg also had an offer from Illinois but opted to play for Bill Self instead.

Bragg didn't see too much time as a reserve in Lawrence, averaging 13.8 minutes a game as a sophomore this past season. He put up 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds a game.

The Illini could use an influx of players of any kind after both Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett requested releases from their National Letters of Intent in the wake of the school's coaching change.

With those two incoming freshmen believed to be headed elsewhere and the departures of five graduating players from last season's team, Illinois is down to just nine scholarship players for 2017-18: seven returning players — D.J. Williams, Kipper Nichols, Te'Jon Lucas, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Leron Black, Aaron Jordan and Michael Finke — and two incoming freshmen — Da'Monte Williams and Trent Frazier.

Three Buckeyes, two Wolverines, two Badgers picked in NFL Draft's first round

marshon-lattimore-0427.jpg
USA TODAY

Three Buckeyes, two Wolverines, two Badgers picked in NFL Draft's first round

After four Big Ten players were picked in the first round last year, it took a little while longer for the Big Ten train to leave the station in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft on Thursday night.

But in the end, seven players from the conference were selected in the opening 32 picks.

Ohio State's defensive secondary had the best night, with three Buckeyes defensive backs selected in the first round. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was the highest Big Ten product chosen, selected by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 11 pick. Four picks later, safety Malik Hooker went to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 15. And cornerback Gareon Conley was taken with by the Oakland Raiders with the No. 24 pick.

A pair of Michigan defenders also heard their names Thursday night. Do-it-all star Jabrill Peppers, who's expected to settle in at safety in the pros, was picked by the Cleveland Browns at No. 25. Defensive lineman Taco Charlton went to the Dallas Cowboys with the No. 28 choice.

Wisconsin wrapped up the Big Ten's first-round contingent with two of the final three picks of the night. Linebacker T.J. Watt went to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 30 selection, and offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk was the No. 32 pick, heading to the Saints.

Only the SEC, with 12, had more players selected than the Big Ten.

Though not a surprise, one item of note was the Big Ten's first-round quarterback drought stretching another year. The last Big Ten quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL Draft was Kerry Collins, picked out of Penn State with the No. 5 selection in 1995.

Illini coach Brad Underwood on Mark Smith: 'First time I watched him, he reminded me of Deron Williams'

Illini coach Brad Underwood on Mark Smith: 'First time I watched him, he reminded me of Deron Williams'

Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman wanted to rekindle the glory days of Illini basketball when he made a coaching change last month, replacing John Groce with Brad Underwood.

Well, in a move that Groce rarely pulled off during his five-year tenure in Champaign, Underwood scored a huge recruiting win right out of the gates on Wednesday, when the state's Mr. Basketball, Mark Smith of Edwardsville High School, announced he'd be signing with Illinois.

The four-star recruit who earned his title of the best boys basketball player in the Land of Lincoln this past season generated a ton of excitement across the Illinois fan base, and the obviously excited Underwood is already using language sure to bring back the same kind of feeling that accompanied those aforementioned glory days.

"He's an explosive athlete. He's a very gifted athlete," Underwood said of his newest signee when speaking with reporters Thursday in Champaign. "First time I watched him, he reminded me a little bit of a former (Illinois) player, Deron Williams, but probably a better shooter at the same time at this point their careers."

Oh really, coach?

When a recruit of this magnitude — Smith is ranked as the No. 52 player in this year's class by Rivals — signs up with a team, fans are unsurprisingly amped. But comparing Smith to one of the program's all-time greats, a player who was perhaps the best on the team that reached the 2005 national title game, is sure to stir folks up even more.

While any comparisons to NBA All Stars and Olympic gold medalists might be considered a tad hyperbolic, there's no doubting that Smith is a sensational athlete and that he's a huge get for the Illini, someone who could make an instant impact in Underwood's first season.

"Some people have labeled Mark a specialist, a shooter. I don't see him as that at all. I think he's a great playmaker. I think he's a guy that can play the point and be a tremendous asset because he makes his teammates better," Underwood said. "He does whatever is needed in the course of a game. If that's scoring, he's going to score. If the defense loads to him, he's an extremely high-IQ player, he's got great feel, he's got great instincts.

"And physically he's in a position to play right away. Everybody's seen his body type, and he's a strong athlete. Usually freshmen have to develop physically. Mark doesn't. Mark's dialed in there and a very strong young man. But his skill set is very unique, and he's very well rounded in all aspects."

While the kind of athlete Smith is and his on-court prowess will be how most fans and observers judge him, his decision to play at Illinois is big for two other reasons.

First, a new head coach rarely gets to pick his first crop of players. Underwood will start his tenure at Illinois with a roster comprised mostly of Groce's recruits, including a pair of incoming freshmen in Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams, four-star guards in their own right. But, while Smith was being courted by Illinois prior to the coaching change, Underwood is the one who Smith committed to, and Underwood can count Smith as his first import to this program.

That means shaping his program's culture as much as it does shaping its style of play.

"In every way," Underwood said when asked how Smith works with the program he's trying to build. "Character wins. Yes, you have to be a very good player, there's no doubt about that. But character and the culture — he's got tremendous leadership. And I think that was evidenced at his press conference yesterday and how many people showed up and former teammates. That's a tremendous trait. Not everybody can pull that off. People are drawn to him, he's got that personality about him.

"He loves his teammates here. He's talked about that at length already and his relationships. That's exciting because that's a young man who's going to fit in well. We want to build our program around young men who win off the court just as much as they win on the court."

Second, Smith is a big in-state recruit. As mentioned, that's not something Groce could claim a lot of success in attracting. He missed out on a lot of Illinois' finest high school basketball products, famously losing close battles for the services of Jalen Brunson and Cliff Alexander. Groce's program didn't even come close on others, like stars Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, who both played for Chicago native Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

Landing Smith, the best player in Illinois if you go by his Mr. Basketball title, gives Underwood a win in one of the main categories fans care most about: recruiting the state.

"I think the lifeblood of our program is recruiting. And to be able to get Mr. Basketball in this state? We should," Underwood said. "We've got to be the option. Not just an option, we've got to be the option. We're the University of Illinois, and we've got one of the proudest, most dynamic histories. We've got a great tradition, we've got a great fan base.

"I think it speaks volumes, and I'm excited about that. I think it's something we can continue to build on, and it sure beats the alternative of not getting him."