With Ayo Dosunmu now playing in the NBA, who will emerge as the next star for Illinois basketball? The early-season Brandin Podziemski watch will likely be similar to the way Illini fans viewed Adam Miller to begin 2020-21.
When Miller entered the transfer portal shortly after last season, many thought Andre Curbelo would become the new leader of the Illini heading into the 2021-22 campaign. Then Kofi Cockburn announced he would return to Illinois for his junior season.
The No. 11 Illini have two high-profile returnees to lean on for another fun year in Champaign, but which player could announce his arrival with a bang this season just as Curbelo charged onto the scene during his freshman year? Brandin Podziemski is certainly a prime candidate.
Who is Brandin Podziemski?
Podziemski, a four-star recruit from Wisconsin, was named Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year his senior year, similarly to Miller who was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois in 2020.
He was ranked No. 62 by Rivals, No. 70 by Top247, and No. 107 by 247Sports Composite.
Podziemski averaged 35.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 4.0 steals as a senior and is considered one of the top shooters in the 2021 recruiting class. His favorite NBA players are Tyler Herro, Devin Booker, Duncan Robinson, and Pat Connaughton, all among the best shooters in the Association today.
There is a lot of hype around this kid.
Podziemski was a popular name for some of the biggest basketball programs in the country. He chose Illinois over Kansas, Kentucky, and several other schools. This was a big-time get for Underwood as he tries to replace Dosunmu and grow the next Illini star.
His Potential Impact
Illinois will need more outside shooting with Dosunmu gone. Having a consistent threat from beyond the arc will only make Curbelo that much more dangerous as a playmaking pass-first guard. That role could have Podziemski's name written all over it.
Podziemski only played 13 minutes in Illinois' first exhibition game and six minutes in the second tune-up contest. But like many freshmen, he has the potential to grow throughout the season under the senior leadership Illinois has with Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams at the helm.
Though Podziemski has only been in Champaign for a few months, it seems the freshman has bought into Illinois' culture and winning attitude. He even developed his body immensely in such a short time.
It will be interesting to see how Underwood utilizes the freshman's minutes early in the season. Either way, I see Brandin Podziemski playing an important role come March for the nationally ranked Illini.