Illinois’ infamous loss to Loyola last season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. The Illini struggled throughout, and as head coach Brad Underwood said on Friday media day, “They just passed us.”
The Illini struggled, especially from the 3-point line that day. In this last game, the Illini shot 4-14 from deep, 29%. This is where senior Alfonso Plummer comes in.
“He’s one of the best shooters I’ve coached, period,” Underwood said. “He’s still in the gym, he’s still working on his game, and I like that about him.”
Plummer, who enlisted in Illinois after entering the transfer portal this offseason, has already built a reputation as a deadly shooter. He played two years in Utah and once established a Pac-12 tournament and a one-game record hitting 11 threes in a game. For the season, he averaged nearly 14 points per game and connected on 38% of his three.
The Puerto Rican native and former junior college star has a lot of self-confidence. Much of this probably comes from his father, Renan Plummer, who played professional basketball with the Panama Olympic team. But he was also emboldened by his new coaches and teammates.
“From day one, they showed me love,” Plummer said. “The chemistry was really good. Curbelo is like a brother; he is always by my side. This team is special. I know we can do really great things because we are already connected.
Although he has been in the team for less than a year, he is far from an underdog. There was no doubt who his roommate would be, since Trent Frazier chose him, Plummer says. It seems like a natural pairing between the two lefties who are known to get hot at depth.
They could be an exciting duo, but on paper playing them at the same time begs questions. Neither is known to distribute the ball at a high level, and both are under 6 feet 3 inches tall. But that may not hold them back.
“Trent is definitely one of the best defensemen I’ve played against,” Plummer said. “He’s very energetic, he always talks. He’s just a great teammate. He doesn’t care to score; he just cares about winning, and if he thinks I’m hot, he’s gonna give me the ball for sure.
The whole team is on the same page when it comes to the role of Plummer: he’s going to shoot. In fact, Plummer says Underwood gave him the “green light” to shoot anytime, anywhere.
The Illini have even added a new wrinkle to their practices: a four point line. It’s all part of Underwood’s plan to take and make more than three this season.
“Last year’s team was an elite elite two-point placement team,” Underwood said. “I think we were 33rd in the country in 3-point field goal percentage, but I think we were 320th in attempts. This year’s team will be a better shooting team than last year’s team on the 3-point line.
Nor will it be up to Plummer to produce from three. In addition to Frazier, the Illini can count on senior Da’Monte Williams and Jacob Grandison, both of whom have shot 35% of three in their careers.
Sophomore Coleman Hawkins and Austin Hutcherson Sr. are other potential threats from the depths. Hutcherson has connected on 41% of his three in two years at Wesleyan, but he’s missed the last two seasons, one due to transfer rules and the next due to injury.
While Underwood has yet to announce his starting lineup, it won’t change much for Plummer when he does. Its role is already defined, and it seems to adapt well to the change of scenery.
“The Pac-12 is more like a systematic conference, but this conference is a rhythm,” Plummer said. “Everyone is running; everyone is athletic. It’s much better for me because I’m a shooter, and I have to find shots. I have to move constantly on the pitch.
Plummer adds the shot that the Illini desperately needed over the past two years. Other than Frazier, all of the Illini’s major offensive weapons did most of their work inside the paint or just outside.
Kofi Cockburn, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Andre Curbelo and even Ayo Dosumnu are all inside scorers. Looking back, it’s somewhat surprising that the Illini have had the success they’ve had with so few reliable deep threats, but if Plummer can fill that role, he could be the X-factor for the team.
“You do 11 threes in a game at the highest level, you have ability,” Underwood said, “He’s going to be a fun guy for me to train.”