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J. Thomas McNamara

        Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman announced Thursday an extension for men’s basketball head coach Brad Underwood, pending approval by the UI Board of Trustees at its Sept. 23 meeting.

The new agreement will keep Underwood on a six-year contract through the 2026-27 season.

Underwood’s proposed contract will move his total annual compensation into the top 10 nationally.  It is fully guaranteed through the next four seasons, with Underwood’s buyout – what he would owe the University to accept employment elsewhere – increasing as well.

The contract will also include bonus opportunities for advancement in the NCAA Tournament and other agreed-upon metrics.

“It was just four years ago that we brought Coach Underwood here with the vision he and I shared of returning Illinois Basketball to national prominence, and he has delivered,” Whitman said. “The ‘Every Day Guys’ culture he has developed defines our locker room and permeates every facet of the program. Coach’s tenants of hard work, accountability, toughness and team-first mindset are just a few of the principles he has instilled in our student-athletes. Coach, his staff and the players have relentlessly maintained their high expectations, and the results have followed, culminating with the most victories in the Big Ten Conference over the last two years, a 2021 Big Ten Tournament title, and an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed.

“Those are significant achievements. And yet, knowing Brad as I do, he remains focused on the future, determined to elevate our program to new heights. He is as steadfast in his quest to build a championship program here at the University of Illinois as he was on March 18, 2017. I am grateful to Brad, Susan and their entire family for the commitment they have made to the University of Illinois. I am excited to continue working alongside him on this journey and look forward to his leadership over these next six years and beyond.”

Underwood’s fourth season at Illinois produced one of the best seasons in school history. The Illini went 16-4 in conference play to mark its winningest Big Ten season. The Illini went on to win the Big Ten Tournament, earning the program’s first conference tournament title since 2005. The total of 19 wins against conference foes in 2021 also set a school record.

Illinois earned the fourth NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed in school history after winning 14 of 15 games over a two-month stretch leading into NCAA March Madness. The remarkable run included seven wins over ranked teams, with five coming against top-10 opponents.

Illinois finished the season with a total of six victories over top-10 teams, breaking the previous school record of five set by the 1989 Flyin’ Illini. Illinois led the country with 12 Quad 1 wins and a combined 17 wins in Quads 1 and 2. The Illini also won nine road games, leading all high-major conference teams.

Illinois made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in eight years, advancing to the Round of 32 to finish with a record of 24-7. Illinois ended the season at No. 4 in kenpom’s team adjusted efficiency margin, the second-highest rating ever for the program. The Illini excelled on both sides of the ball, one of three teams nationally to rank in the top 10 in both offensive (8th) and defensive (7th) efficiency.

Illinois is now 29-11 (.726) in Big Ten play the last two years of the Underwood era, owning both the most wins and best winning percentage in the league over the last two seasons.

“Before I get to basketball, on behalf of my wife Susan and our children, it is important I mention how thankful we are for how the U of I community has embraced our family,” Underwood said. “People make the place, and everyone in Champaign has helped make this not just where we live, but home.

“It is the honor of a lifetime to be the head coach here at the University of Illinois. The history, the players, and the passionate fan base are part of what makes this job so special. But another key that sets us apart is our leadership, and I am so fortunate to work with Josh Whitman. His passion for the University of Illinois and championship vision for our athletic department inspires everyone. His investment in resources to continually push our basketball program forward and his unyielding support makes this feel not like a job, but a partnership. As a relationship-driven person it has made the process so much more enjoyable and rewarding.

“I’m proud of our players and staff for what we’ve accomplished to date. But to be blunt, that’s over. We are in a hyper-competitive climate where anyone who rests on accomplishments gets left behind. So we have to keep pushing forward. Yet the foundation of our philosophy remains. We will work — in the classroom, in the community, and in the gym — with relentless effort. That is the process for producing Every Day Guys who will compete at a championship level. We are excited to work together to accomplish these lofty goals.”

     I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

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