CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – University of Illinois director of athletics Josh Whitman took the first step in helping Illinois basketball return to a place of national prominence by hiring Brad Underwood as the 18th Fighting Illini men's head coach.
"I am excited to welcome Brad Underwood, his wife Susan, and their three children to the Fighting Illini family," Whitman said. "In searching for a new coach, we were looking for a proven winner who would build upon our proud tradition while developing an unmistakable identity for Illinois Basketball. Brad's teams play a fast, aggressive style and show unyielding toughness.
"They have a tremendous energy that I believe will ignite the Orange Krush and our fans to once again make State Farm Center one of the most intimidating venues in all of college basketball. Off the court, Brad builds strong, personal relationships with his student-athletes. His winning combination of strong Midwest values and tenacious work ethic are a perfect fit for our community and the Illini Nation."
Underwood arrives at Illinois from Oklahoma State, where he led OSU to a 20-win season and NCAA Tournament appearance this year. The Cowboys had one of the most exciting and prolific offenses in the country, standing eighth in the NCAA in scoring (85.7 points per game) and leading the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency in the current kenpom rankings. The Cowboys ranked eighth nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (.402) and fourth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (.383).
Oklahoma State finished fifth in the Big 12 with a 9-9 conference record in a season where the Big 12 was rated as the best conference in the nation. That was a dramatic improvement for the Cowboys, who went 3-15 in league play a year ago. Oklahoma State came on strong during the second half of the season, winning 10 of 11 games from Jan. 21-Feb. 25, which included a pair of five-game winning streaks.
"Coaching basketball at the University of Illinois is a once-in-lifetime opportunity," Underwood said. "The players, fans and administration at Oklahoma State have been absolutely incredible, and I want to thank them for the support they've given me and my family over the last year. However, during my time at Western Illinois, I always saw the Illinois coaching job as one of the truly best in the nation. I want to thank Josh Whitman for the opportunity to join the Fighting Illini family and look forward to working with him to build a championship program. I can't wait to get started with our team. Next season can't get here fast enough for me!"
Underwood arrived in Stillwater following a dominant run at Stephen F. Austin where he led the Lumberjacks to Southland Conference regular season and tournament titles in each of his three seasons. Underwood compiled an 89-14 record at SFA, tied with Brad Stevens (Butler, 2008-10) for the most wins by a head coach in his first three seasons at an NCAA school.
He led SFA to a 28-6 overall record and NCAA Round of 32 appearance in 2016. The Lumberjacks rolled past No. 3 West Virginia in the first round 70-56 before narrowly missing a trip to the Sweet 16 with a 76-75 defeat to No. 6 Notre Dame in the second round.
That Stephen F. Austin squad was efficient on both sides of the ball, ranking 57th nationally on offense and 38th on defense. The Lumberjacks averaged 80.2 points accompanied by high-pressure defense that forced the highest turnover rate in the country (.259).
Underwood's second SFA team went 29-5 in 2015, also advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Lumberjacks ranked seventh in the nation in field goal percentage (.487) and led the NCAA in assists (18.7 apg).
His debut season in Nacogdoches in 2014 included a 29-game winning streak and culminated in a 32-3 record and NCAA Round of 32 appearance after a victory over No. 5 seed VCU in the opening round. Underwood earned the Joe B. Hall award, given to the nation's top first-year coach.
Prior to taking over at Stephen F. Austin, Underwood served the 2013 season as associate head coach at South Carolina under Frank Martin. He went to Columbia with Martin after serving on his bench for five seasons as an assistant at Kansas State, with his final season elevated to associate head coach. Underwood spent his first year at K-State in the role of director of operations for then-head coach Bob Huggins.
Underwood has had two head coaching stints in the junior college ranks, compiling a 70-24 record at Daytona Beach (2003-06) and a 62-60 mark at Dodge City (1988-92). In between those opportunities, Underwood was entrenched in the state of Illinois for 10 seasons, as an assistant coach for Jim Kerwin at Western Illinois from 1992-2003.
Underwood is a 1986 graduate of Kansas State. He played for the legendary Jack Hartman, K-State's all-time winningest coach. Former Illinois head coach Lon Kruger also played and coached for Hartman at Kansas State. Underwood began his college career at Hardin-Simmons, where he later entered the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant. Hardin-Simmons was the first college job for Lou Henson, the Fighting Illini's all-time winningest coach, and whose name permanently adorns the court at State Farm Center.