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Deon Thomas says this Illini men’s basketball team is “more well-rounded” than last year’s squad

Deon Thomas (right) during an Illinois men's basketball radio broadcast at State Farm Center with Brian Barnhart.

URBANA — The Illinois men’s basketball team begins postseason play Friday with a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal matchup against Indana.

The Illini received several all-Big Ten honors this week, with center Kofi Cockburn unanimously named first-team all-conference, guard Trent Frazier named to the second team, and guard Alfonso Plummer garnering a third-team selection.

Illinois Newsroom’s Brian Moline spoke with Illinois’ all-time leading scorer, Deon Thomas, who played for the Illini from 1990-94. Thomas is now the analyst for Illinois men’s basketball radio broadcasts.

Listen to this interview here.

Thomas says although Illini coach Brad Underwood didn’t receive the league’s Coach of the Year honor (that went to Wisconsin’s Greg Gard), he deserved strong consideration.

“And should be mentioned nationally as well because of the job he did,” Thomas said, “not having key players in key minutes. For one game the entire year, you have the starting five you think you’re going to have for the year.”

He says although this year’s team may not have quite as good a win-loss record as last year’s squad that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, this year’s team may be better equipped to make a deep tournament run. The Illini were eliminated last season by Loyola-Chicago in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I think this team was put together a lot better than what last year’s team was,” Thomas said. “Of course, you have to take into account Ayo Dosunmu, who was (considered) the best player in the country by many, including myself. But you take this year’s team, and I think it’s more well-rounded. I think you have better shooters. I think you have more length. You added three freshman that are lights out from outside. Kofi (Cockburn) has improved.”

The top-seeded Fighting Illini and 9th-seeded Indiana tip off in their Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal game at 10:30 central time this morning in Indianapolis. You can watch on the Big Ten Network.

Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianMolineWILL.

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Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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