April 18, 2023
State of the Program: Illinois is flying high under Shauna Green
'I feel like we’re in a great spot'
Few knew what to expect from Illinois in 2022-23. First-year coach Shauna Green had built a juggernaut at the University of Dayton, but the Illini had consistently finished among the worst teams in the Power Five.
Thanks to the transfer portal, top-tier coaching and strong player development, Illinois wound up reaching the NCAA tournament as an 11-seed, losing in the First Four to Mississippi State.
Finishing the year 22-10 and 11-7 in the Big Ten, Green led the Illini to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years and to a 15-win improvement from 2021-22. Even though the transfer portal has only recently become a valuable asset for new coaches to quickly retool their rosters, Green orchestrated arguably one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in women’s college basketball history.
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As much as she believed in her vision entering the season, though, there was still plenty of uncertainty.
“You never know going into a first season with a program that hasn’t had success,” she told The Next. “I believed in our players, I believed in their ability, but you just don’t know how it’s going to translate into wins. … Now that we’ve been through it, it just gives a clearer vision of what we need to continue to improve upon.”
2022-23 record: 22-10 (11-7 Big Ten), lost to Mississippi State in First Four, 70-56
Big Ten finish: 6th
Notable wins: vs. Iowa (90-86), at Missouri (76-66)
Departures: Geovana Lopes (graduation), Jayla Oden (transferring), Liisa Taponen (transferring)
Additions: Camille Hobby (transfer from NC State), Cori Allen (first-year), Gretchen Dolan (first-year)
While Illinois shocked the college basketball world this past season, Green’s already thinking about how the program can take that next step to compete with the Iowa’s and Indiana’s and Ohio State’s for Big Ten championships.
For the 2023-24 season, she thinks two components will help inch the Illini closer: experience and depth.
With all six of their top scorers returning, including Cook, who averaged over 18 points per game, and Bostic who nearly averaged a double-double (10.2 points, 9.8 rebounds per game), Illinois should be well-equipped to run it back with even greater success. When Green was first hired, she had five players on the existing roster and a whole bunch of new faces coming in, so much of last summer involved making sure everyone was on the same page, introducing her terminology and how she wanted to run the program and ensuring the group gelled. This time around, that’s less of a concern.
Beyond the continuity, Green also hopes that added depth will help not only address the roster’s general lack of size, but also take some of the pressure off Cook, Bryant, McKenzie and Bostic, who all played around 30 minutes per game last season.
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“We didn’t have the depth,” she said of the 2022-23 team. “It’s not an excuse, it just is what it is. … I think depth will hopefully help us finish some games. You never know how much that came into play, just six kids, seven kids playing pretty much a ton of minutes. That’s how we’re going to try to get there: Growth from experience and learning and just adding some more pieces to the team to give us more depth.”
Illinois welcomes two first-years to the roster, Cori Allen, a 5’10 four-star guard from Montverde Academy in Florida, and Gretchen Dolan, a 5’11 guard from Williamsville South outside Buffalo, who was just named Miss New York Basketball.
Their size on the wings helps Green address a key part of the team.
“The nice thing is that they don’t have to come in and score 20 a game,” she said. “They can help us from their size, their ability to score the ball, their ability to shoot it, their ability to do multiple things.”
To further address the team’s lack of height, Green also landed Camille Hobby out of the transfer portal from NC State, a player she’s kept tabs on since she coached at Dayton. This is the second straight offseason the Illini have landed a Wolfpack transfer, after Bryant came over last offseason.
“She did reach out to Gen (Bryant) and just asked her about her experience here and the culture and how we are,” Green said. “I think it helped just knowing someone and also to see how she went from not playing at all to having an outstanding season.”
The grind is real
One of the biggest reasons Green jumped at the opportunity to coach in the Big Ten? The competition.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been an awesome challenge because as a competitor, that’s what you want,” she said. “I think it’s the best league in the country. The grind of it, though, is real. Every night it’s a battle, and you can win or you can lose. When we were in the (Atlantic 10) – it’s a great league and you prepare the same way, but there are some games you’re like, ‘I think we’re gonna get this one.’ The Big Ten, there’s nothing like that.”
There are also few conferences that compare to the atmospheres teams play in. From a packed Assembly Hall in Bloomington to a raucous Value City Arena in Columbus to a rejuvenated State Farm Center in Champaign, the Illini had the opportunity to prove themselves on some of the biggest stages after two decades of significant struggles. Green still has work to do to turn the program into a perennial conference championship contender, but Illinois is surely far closer to that point now than it’s probably ever been – and certainly exponentially closer than it was at this time last season.
“I feel like we’re in a great spot,” Green said. “This year helped us. It helped put is in that right direction, and now it’s about using this momentum and taking it to that next level.”
Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel
Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.