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When Will Illinois Basketball Get Back In the NBA Draft?

The Illini haven’t been in the NBA Draft since 2012.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Illinois vs Michigan Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NBA Draft has came and gone, with four former Big Ten stars getting drafted this past Thursday. Those four draft picks represented three Big Ten programs (Michigan, Indiana and Purdue), so now one of the questions for the remaining 11 programs is when will they find themselves back in the NBA draft.

As for Illinois basketball, their best player departing this spring was Malcolm Hill, who averaged 17.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for the Illini. Hill has been a lone bright spot for an Illini program that had struggled heavily under former head coach John Groce and will look to start fresh under recent hire Brad Underwood.

While Hill excelled at the collegiate level, he couldn’t find a spot in the NBA Draft and will attempt to find his way to a roster spot via the Summer League, set to join Oklahoma City’s team in July.

This continues a recent drought for the Illini, who haven’t produced a draft pick since the Portland Trail Blazers selected Meyers Leonard with the 11th pick in 2012. Leonard himself ended a six year drought, as the Illini hadn’t been in the draft before that since 2006 when they had James Augustine and Dee Brown selected in the second round. The Illini actually routinely produced draft picks in the early 2000s, having seven players selected between 2002 and 2006, including Deron Williams.

While the Illini have seen brighter days, it may be some time until they produce another NBA Draft pick.

The school’s decision to move on from Groce had a major effect on the roster, seeing several players transfer from the program, including star guard Jalen Coleman-Lands. Firing Groce also led to losing several recruits, including highly touted four-star center Jeremiah Tilmon, the 42nd best prospect in 2017 (per Rivals).

When everything is said and done, the roster Underwood will inherit doesn’t seem to have anyone on it that seems like even a potential sleeper pick over the next few years. That means the next opportunity Illinois will have to produce a draft pick will either be one of the incoming freshmen or an eventual Underwood recruit in the near future.

The Illini will have several new guys to keep an eye on this season, with their 2017 recruiting class including three four-star guards this year. Highlighting the recruiting class is four-star shooting guard Mark Smith, the 52nd best recruit in 2017 (per Rivals). Smith committed to the Illini in April over a laundry list of other major programs. Also joining the mix will be guards Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams, as well as three-star center Greg Eboigbodin and unranked Matic Vesel.

Underwood, who has coached at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State previously, has coached one player that has been drafted in the NBA. That player was Jawun Evans, a four-star point guard that committed to Oklahoma State when Travis Ford was head coach, choosing the Cowboys over a number of teams that included the Illini. Evans had a productive sophomore season under Underwood, seeing his scoring explode from 12.9 points to 19.2 points per game and was selected in the second round.

As for the Illini, their next opportunity for a draft pick will either be one of their four-star guards joining the team this year or a future Underwood recruit. Underwood’s teams at both Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State have been prolific on offense, so if he can help develop some of the talent coming onto campus it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Illinois eventually land back in the draft within the next few years.