Looks Like University Of Illinois - Dain Dainja

Dec 28, 2021

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Chirstmas is complete, so back to my list. Next up: a transfer big man to replace Kofi next season. We should probably start there - replacements needed next season - before we get to anything else. Because as of right now, it's looking like every preseason article next year will be titled The Replacements.

If you go to KenPom right now and you scroll down to "most frequent lineup the last five games", here's what you see:

PG: Trent Frazier (SR)
SG: Alfonso Plummer (SR)
SF: Da'Monte Williams (SR)
PF: Jacob Grandison (SR)
C: Kofi Cockburn (JR)

Yes, Grandison could use his Covid "bonus" year next year just like Frazier, Williams, and Plummer used their bonus years this year. Yes, there's even a chance that Kofi could look the draft and say "you know what? I'll play all four years in college and then turn professional." But there's also a chance - perhaps a very good chance - that we lose all five players after this season.

So that would mean that the known pieces for next season would be Andre Curbelo at point guard (as long as this issue, whatever it is, isn't career-threatening), Coleman Hawkins at the four, and, uh, that's it. In my mind, those are the only known pieces. Omar Payne and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk are backup bigs, the three current freshmen will probably battle it out for minutes in the rotation, but there's no players to put in the "known" category besides Curbelo (if healthy) and Hawkins. (Hopefully Grandison wants to play a bonus season, but that's not something that can go in the "known" category.)

This is different from the last few seasons. 2021-22 was setting up to look that way, but then Trent and Da'Monte announced they were returning for a bonus year and Kofi announced he was returning to Champaign. If that doesn't happen, the most common lineup on KenPom would probably be this:

PG: Brandin Podziemski (FR)
SG: Alfonso Plummer (SR)
SF: Luke Goode (FR)
PF: Jacob Grandison (SR)
C: Omar Payne (JR)

Care to guess our final Big Ten record if that was the starting lineup? First four off the bench would be Melendez, BBV, Lieb, and Serven. Would we even win seven Big Ten games this season?

My point: with the injuries to Curbelo and Hutcherson, this season would have been completely sunk. We would have been hoping that Curbelo-Plummer-Hutcherson-Grandison-Payne would have been a formidable lineup, but then Curbelo and Hutcherson's injuries would have devastated us. Instead, even with Curbelo and Hutcherson out, our current senior-senior-senior-senior-junior lineup has held things together.

Next year, it's possible all five are gone. Which is why a player like Dain Dainja is very important. Instead of a freshman big, we're plugging in a third-year big. He doesn't have much experience (missed all of his freshman season with an injury and only played in three games before transferring this season), but sometimes it's as simple as "he wasn't much of a player when he was 19, but after he turned 21..."

So let's go find some hype videos on Twitter to see what kind of player we added. Because he sat out last season at Baylor, there's just no much current "film" out there, so we need to go back to some pre-pandemic stuff.

OK so yeah this isn't a Payne-like Kofi replacement. This is more of a big-bodied Kofi replacement. Doesn't have the height of Kofi, almost certainly doesn't have the rebounding prowess, but has the bulk to do some damage in the lane.

I also found this clip:

Remind me to never post a photo of myself around whoever runs that account because "has a long way to go to get healthy and get into good conditioning" seems pretty harsh for the guy shown in this video from two weeks ago:

Not sure where "long way to go to get healthy" is coming from (was that reported by someone?), but he doesn't appear to be a "long way" there. If you want to see a long way to go, come join me walking the steps of Memorial Stadium.

I also found this video where he talks about growing up in Chicago before moving to Minneapolis "in high school":

His dad played at Minnesota in the early 1990's, so I guess the next part of this post means to be "here's everything Robert remembers about Dain Dainja's father, Dana Jackson". I, uh, don't remember him.

I do remember his father's senior night. After a really rough 1991-92 season for the Illini where the Bruce Pearl sanctions hit hard (finished 13-15 for the first losing season in forever), 1992-93 was a bounce back year. In fact, after the Andy Kaufmann shot to beat #9 Iowa, we won our next two home games to sit at 15-6 (8-2 in the Big Ten). We were thinking about winning at #1 Indiana and being only 1 game out of the Big Ten title race. We, uh, didn't win at Indiana (lost 93-72) and that started a little spiral at the end of that season. One of the worst games of that spiral - the loss at Minnesota on their senior night.

If you're someone who hates a fake rally, it was the fakest of all fake rallies. We're down 8 with like 1:30 to go and the game is beyond over but then Minnesota goes cold from the line. The way I remember it they missed 9 of 10 free throws in the last 90 seconds. Would have been one of the best opponent meltdowns in Illini history but we just couldn't capitalize. I won't have this right but this will be close enough: I think they missed 9 of 10 free throws but we only went 3-6 from the field on the other end and Minnesota won by two. I know we scored to cut it to two right at the end, went for the steal on the inbounds, missed the steal, and Vashon Leonard dribbled out the last five seconds so we couldn't even foul one more time to see if they'd miss 11 of 12.

Anyway, frustrating loss. Minnesota misses 9 of 10 free throws but we couldn't score. And Dain Dainja's dad started, played 24 minutes, and scored 4 points with 4 rebounds on his senior night. We lost 4 of 5 to close out that Big Ten season which made us fall back into a second-place tie with Iowa in the Big Ten (finished 11-7). That meant we fell to a 6-seed, beat Byron Russell and Long Beach State in the first round, but then we fell to Vandy in the 3-6 game. Thank you for joining me on this trip back to Dain Dainja's father's senior season at Minnesota (where his dad's Gophers missed the NCAA Tournament but won the NIT).

I'm way off track here. Let's close this out.

I like this pick-up. In an absolutely perfect world, this is a Colin Castleton scenario. I will now describe that scenario.

Colin Castleton picked Michigan over Illinois. He was the #128 player in the 247 Composite. His first season at Michigan, he scored 21 points in 19 games. His second season, he scored 78 points in 25 games. Colin Castleton's plan for his college career wasn't to average 2.2 ppg. So he transferred to Florida where he averaged 12.4 ppg and 6.4 rpg last season. This year, Castleton has been in the top-10 of KenPom's player of the year ratings most of the season (he was 10th two days ago but isn't listed as of this moment). But he is averaging 14.8 ppg and 9.3 rpg this season and might be first-team All-SEC.

Dain Dainja picked Baylor. He was the #91 player in the 247 Composite. His first season at Baylor, he redshirted after "an injury prompted surgery that kept him out for the season". This season, his sophomore year, he played 9 total minutes in Baylor's first three games (scoring six total points) and decided that averaging 2 points per game wasn't the plan for his college career. So he transferred to Illinois.

Will he then explode on the scene like Castleton at Florida? Almost assuredly not. That's why I prefaced this with "in an absolutely perfect world". But I do love recruiting stories like this, especially with big men we're inheriting as third-year players. Hopefully, all of the growing pains happened at Baylor and we get the reap the benefits of "top-100 big man entering his third year after high school".

That doesn't get you a ton of Tom Cruises, though. This is still a player with six points in college. I gave Omar Payne 2.5 Cruises, and that feels right. I see Dainja a step above Payne, so I'm gonna go with...

Dain Dainja - Three Tom Cruises.


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