(CBS) Brad Underwood spent more than a decade coaching as an assistant at Western Illinois, and it was there that he gained a feeling for what basketball in this state holds.
Underwood relied on that experience when Illinois came calling for him to become its new head basketball coach. He was sold on the opportunity to lead the Fighting Illini.
“There’s very few programs that have the tradition, the culture, the success that this program has,” Underwood said on the Mully & Hanley Show on Monday morning, hours before being introduced as the program’s new head coach.
“To get the opportunity, I’m very blessed. My goodness, it’s one of the top programs in the country. I’m very excited to be here.”
Underwood signed a six-year deal with Illinois for an average of more than $3 million annually after a season at Oklahoma State. He led the Cowboys to a 20-13 record and the NCAA Tournament in his first year. Previously, Underwood had coached three seasons at Stephen F. Austin, taking the program to the NCAA Tournament in each of those years.
A longtime assistant for Bob Huggins and Frank Martin, Underwood has a record of 109-27 as a head coach. His attacking style of offense will now come to Illinois.
Underwood’s next task is to keep intact a strong recruiting class formed by now-former coach John Groce. After that, he will be asked to lead the Fighting Illini to the NCAA Tournament, something Groce did just once in his five years and that Underwood has done in each of his four seasons as head coach.
For Underwood, the belief is that Illinois will be back in the NCAA Tournament as soon as next season.
“I dream big,” Underwood said. “Why not? The one thing I will do is not put a cap on what we can and can’t do. I think every season, an identity develops about who you are and what we’re capable of doing.
“We’re one of the best programs in the country. We got to start acting like that, we have to start thinking like that. I’ll be disappointed any year we’re not in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve got to get a lot of people to believe that, and we got to get starting working towards that. This program should be elite. That’s why I’m here.”