With the Big Ten expanding this season thanks to the additions of USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon, life is bound to only get more difficult for teams in one of the nation's premier basketball conference. That includes the Illinois basketball program, which under 8th-year head coach Brad Underwood is enjoying something of a program renaissance. Fresh off of a season in which the Illini won the Big Ten Tournament and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight, Illinois is trying to remain on top of the Big Ten, pulling off a recruiting coup as they've landed highly regarded Canadian prospect Will Riley.

“Illinois basketball recruiting has gone up a notch,” writes Jeremy Werner of 247Sports. “Five-star wing Will Riley committed to Illinois, the 6-foot-8 Canadian forward announced on Sunday. Riley is currently ranked the No. 9 overall prospect in the Class of 2025, according to the 247Sports.”

Riley, a gifted scorer with length and athleticism for days, joins point guard Jeremiah Fears, the 38th-ranked player in the 2025 recruiting class, as the only two commits for Illinois thus far, but from the sounds of it, the 18-year-old Riley will be coming to Champaign a year early.

“The 18-year-old is expected to reclassify to the Class of 2024 and join Illinois this upcoming season,” says Werner.

If this is how things materialize, Will Riley will be joining an Illinois recruiting class that is currently ranked 30th in the country, and already includes Morez Johnson and Jason Jakstys, the 1st and 4th-ranked players in the state of Illinois respectively, as well as Tomislav Ivisic, the twin brother of former Kentucky center — current Arkansas Razorbacks transfer — Zvonimir Ivisic.

Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood leaves the court after the game against the Duquesne Dukes in the second round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at CHI Health Center Omaha.
© Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Underwood has built a winner at Illinois 

It took Brad Underwood some time to find his footing in Champaign, suffering through three seasons without a postseason berth to start his tenure at Illinois. But in the four seasons since then, Illinois has gone a combined 96-39 with five NCAA Tournament victories in that span, coming close to replicating some of the success that both Bill Self and Bruce Weber had with the Fighting Illini earlier this century.

Last season, Illinois made their first Elite Eight appearance since 2005, when the Weber-led Fighting Illini marched all the way to the National Championship Game. For 20 minutes, Illinois gave the UConn Huskies one hell of a fight, but in the blink of an eye — and over the course of a 30-0 UConn run — Illinois' season had ended.

But there's still reason for hope in Champaign as the Illini enter the 2024-25 season. In addition to a talented group of freshman, now led by Will Riley, Illinois also put together the 18th-ranked transfer portal class, led by experienced lead guard Kylan Boswell (9.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals) from Arizona. In addition to Boswell, Brad Underwood also landed Tre White (12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds at Louisville), Carey Booth (6.4 points, 4.3 rebounds at Notre Dame), and Ben Humrichous (14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds at Evansville). The only returning starter from last season's team will be Ty Rodgers, a big-bodied junior guard who averaged 9 points and 9 rebounds per game in the 2024 Big Ten Tournament.