One of the best problems a basketball program can have is having more players that want to play for you than you have spots available. It's a situation that hasn't been the case around Champaign lately, but it's amazing what one season and a new coach can do for the momentum of your program.
That momentum is causing John Groce to run out of room for all the players that want to come here.
As our scholarship count currently looks, after Ibby Djimde, Devin Langford and Mike Shaw transferred out and Aaron Cosby and Jon Ekey transferred in, the Illini have one available scholarship for the 2013-14 season. Well, considering that Oregon State guard Ahmad Starks is visiting Champaign today and Brandon Paul's younger brother Darius Paul is visiting on Friday, that's one less scholarship than we may need.
So what happens if Ahmad Starks commits today? Does that mean Darius Paul is out as an option?
Well, not necessarily. While there's nothing concrete the prevailing feeling around the program is that both could end up in Champaign next season. The hope is that if Starks transfers he can get a waiver from the NCAA to play right away and therefore function like a fifth-year transfer.
Paul, on the other hand, will be a four-year commitment. He'd have to sit out next season before suiting up in 2014 with three years of eligibility remaining.
So if both players transfer in, who is the odd man out?
Well, there are a five possible outcomes:
1. A returning player transfers out
The only returning players are Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, Nnanna Egwu, Myke Henry and Rayvonte Rice. I don't see any of them suddenly deciding to leave when they're pretty much your starting five next season.
2. A member of the 2013 class fails to qualify
I'm not going to speculate on any of the five members of the 2013 class, but I will say that I haven't heard anything about any of them having a problem there.
3. A member of the 2013 class gets his scholarship rescinded, or, you know, CREANED
I wouldn't be surprised if we saw something like this happen down the road after John Groce has been here awhile -- and I don't like it, but it's a part of the game now -- but I'd be shocked if it happened this season. Shocked.
4. Either Starks or Paul come in as a walk-on
I have no idea of the financial situations of either the Starks or Paul families, but I don't think either player is going to transfer here if they're not getting a scholarship. Particularly Darius Paul when he reportedly has a lot of options to choose from.
5. Starks doesn't get his NCAA waiver and moves on
The possibility remains that if Starks comes here and the NCAA denies his waiver claim forcing him to sit out a season that he moves on to Bradley and the Illini are right at the scholarship limit. If both Starks and Paul commit and Starks gets his waiver, the only other possibilities are the first four I just mentioned.
Now, this is a lot of hand-wringing considering neither of them have committed yet -- and I haven't even mentioned what their commitments might mean about our status with guys like Cliff Alexander and Leron Black -- but it's something John Groce may need to address in the immediate future.
It's a good problem to have, but it's not ideal, either.