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PRINCE: Underwood has Illini program where he envisioned it
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PRINCE: Underwood has Illini program where he envisioned it

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Two years ago, Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said he did not want a quick fix at Illinois. He wanted to build a program like Wisconsin or Michigan State, not just win games and worry about what is next.

"What I'm trying to do is build a culture, keep good players in the program," he said. "The ideal situation is what Wisconsin does. They're able to recruit players, some will redshirt, and you're able to teach them what you want. They get stronger. By the time they're juniors they're ready for Big Ten basketball."

Last week Underwood and his staff participated in a Zoom call with 7-foot Deerfield, Ill., center Brandon Lieb, a three-star recruit who shot up the rankings in recent weeks. DePaul, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Utah offered him, but the one school he wanted the most was not on that list.

Not until Monday.

When the Illini offered, Lieb knew he was committing.

"Illinois is my dream school," Lieb said. "It's where I want to play. I grew up watching them play. Whenever I watched college basketball it was Illinois."

Lieb only weighs 215 pounds, but he is just what the doctor ordered.

"They haven't really talked to me about it, but I'm probably going to redshirt," he said. "That's a good situation for me, and I don't mind it. I just want to do what is best for the team. It's a great situation for me."

He is ideal for Illinois: a highly skilled big man with guard-like skills who can shoot the three. He is an effective scorer over both shoulders and a remarkable passer.

"We're excited to have Brandon join our program and help him achieve his dream of wearing the Orange and Blue," Underwood said. "Brandon's skill level and shooting ability stand out right away; he can really space the floor at the '5'. He has a strong work ethic and is motivated to be part of our player development program, where he will add strength and weight to his frame. Brandon is also a tremendous student who will excel at the University of Illinois. We feel fortunate to add to our 2020 class someone with both the athletic and academic caliber of Brandon Lieb and are pleased to welcome him to the Fighting Illini family."

Make no mistake, Lieb is not a project and does not lack confidence. This big has skills.

"I think for me, as a big guy, my ability to stretch the floor and play inside and out is really valuable," Lieb said. "I’ve got good touch around the rim with both hands, and I love being a rim protector. Obviously strength and putting on weight will be huge for me and will help in so many areas, offensively and defensively. I’d like to improve my ball handling even more as well, being a big who will play on the outside and having to put it on the deck. I have no doubt Illinois has the best staff to improve my game in all those areas and I’m just really excited to get to work."

Lieb joins combo guard Adam Miller (Peoria, Ill./Morgan Park), point guard Andre Curbelo (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico/Long Island Lutheran), and power forward Coleman Hawkins (Sacramento, Calif./Prolific Prep) in the Illinois class of 2020. Illinois' recruiting class is ranked No. 12 nationally by Rivals and No. 15 by 247Sports Composite.

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