CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Illini got back in the transfer portal and landed another long, versatile wing.
Matthew Mayer announced on Friday he is transferring to Illinois after spending the last four years at Baylor. Mayer entered the NBA Draft with the option to retain his collegiate eligibility and also entered the transfer portal just prior to the May 1 deadline for immediate eligibility. He chose the Illini over three other finalists: North Carolina, Texas Tech and Memphis.
Mayer is the third player to join Illinois via the transfer portal since January. Big man Dain Dainja, also a Baylor transfer, joined Illinois at the semester break in January and wing Terrence Shannon Jr. signed a Big Ten Tender of Financial Agreement earlier this month.
Mayer was an integral role player for Baylor the last two seasons, which included a 55-9 overall record (27-5 Big 12) for the Bears, two No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and the 2021 NCAA Tournament title.
During the Bears’ national championship season in 2020-21, Mayer came off the bench in all 30 games, averaging 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals while shooting 48.9% including 39.5% from three.
Last season, Mayer started all 33 games and averaged 9.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 40.9% including 32.4% from three.
Illinois has two open scholarships remaining and is in the middle of undergoing a significant roster overhaul. Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams and Alfonso Plummer each exhausted their collegiate eligibility. Kofi Cockburn declared for the NBA Draft for a third time and cannot withdraw from the draft process after entering three times. Both Austin Hutcherson and Jacob Grandison also declared for the draft, but have not announced their intentions for next season. Both have at least one year of eligibility remaining. Andre Curbelo (St. John’s), Brandin Podziemski (Santa Clara), Omar Payne (Jacksonville) and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (South Carolina) each entered the NCAA transfer portal.
According to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, the Illini have the No. 9 recruiting class in the county, which consists of Skyy Clark (No. 29), Ty Rodgers (No. 51), Jayden Epps (No. 68) and Sencire Harris (No. 110).
What it means: Illinois continues to get longer on the wing with the addition of Mayer, who is 6-foot-9. Head coach Brad Underwood and his coaching staff are constructing a versatile, athletic team that, in theory, will be extremely switchable at every position. After years of playing with a dominant big man — one of the best in Illinois program history — and revolving the offense around Cockburn, Illinois should play entirely differently next season. Mayer furthers that and is a big get for Illinois via the transfer portal. He, like Dainja, was on Baylor’s 2021 national championship team and should help usher in a new era of Illinois basketball.
Defensively, Mayer can switch and play multiple positions, which should fit in perfectly to what Underwood is after with next season’s team.
“There’s a great advantage in big wings,” Underwood said last week when discussing the addition of Shannon. “We’ve been able to play a little bit smaller. We’ve gotten away with that with Kofi. I look back at my Stephen F. Austin teams, my Oklahoma State teams, we had big wings and they were great rebounders and very versatile. If you’re not going to have 7-foot, 300 in the middle, you better figure out how to rebound and do some things. The versatility that brings for with what we do on the defensive side really excites me.”
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