So on Tuesday night we all got the news we'd been waiting months for, but unfortunately it wasn't the news we wanted to hear.
Ahmad Starks' waiver was denied by the NCAA, which means that he will not be eligible to play this season and will have to sit out along with fellow transfers Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul.
"We are all disappointed with the decision to deny the waiver and especially feel bad for Ahmad and his family," said John Groce in a statement released on Tuesday night. "Ahmad had a compelling case, returning to his home state to be closer to an ailing grandmother who played an instrumental role in raising him. However, we now have to move forward. Ahmad will focus on preparing our team in practice while also making individual improvement, fueled by the goal of returning to the court in 2014-15."
Now, odds are, as an Illini fan you heard the decision and felt it was bullshit. I know I did, But you know what? According to NCAA transfer rules, it might not be. The truth is none of us know what's really going on or what the NCAA looked at. It's just the NCAA made a decision and any time the NCAA makes a decision the natural reaction is to assume it's the wrong one because it's the NCAA.
But for all we know, according to NCAA transfer rules, this may have been the correct decision.
The problem isn't with what the NCAA decided, the problem lies within the NCAA's transfer rules to begin with. I certainly understand why the NCAA has these rules in place, but understanding why they're in place doesn't mean they're in place for the right reasons.
Basketball players are student-athletes, yet they aren't allowed the same liberties as their fellow students. If you want to enroll in a new school next year, you are free to do so, and you won't have to sit on your ass for a year before you're allowed to start classes.
Also, coaches can come and go from jobs at will without having to sit out a season before beginning a new coaching gig.
So students and employees are treated differently than student-athletes, because student-athletes are both. And while I can spend the next hour writing thousands of words about why I laugh at the idea of the "student-athlete" because while they may be students, they aren't treated as such. They're commodities. Nothing more, nothing less.
And that's what is bullshit. Not the NCAA's decision, the NCAA's rules.
As for what this means for Illinois basketball this season, this decision hurts quite a bit. I won't even get into the scholarship count for next year -- we're currently one over and there's still a chance we'll land Cliff Alexander in the 2014 class to go two over -- because I'm guessing we'll spend a lot of time over the next year figuring that one out. But the answer is "somebody is going to transfer" no matter how many times you ask.
That stuff will take care of itself, at the moment my concern is with Illinois basketball in 2013-14.
Starks not being eligible takes away valuable experience and outside shooting from next year's team. It also leaves the Illini incredibly thin at point guard. As of right now the only scholarship point guards on the roster are Tracy Abrams and Jaylon Tate. The idea of our backup point guard being a true freshman and now likely having a much bigger role does not make me all that confident. It's nothing against Jaylon Tate, it's just we don't know if he's ready to take on all that responsibility right now.
There's also Mike LaTulip, whom we all love, but it remains to be seen how he'd perform in extended minutes. Plus, I've always seen LaTulip as a shooter more than a point guard. The guy you find left alone behind the arc that can kill you. I don't know how well he's actually able to run the point and run the offense because we've never really seen him have to do that with the Illini.
So now a basketball season that had a lot of questions to answer has a lot more questions to deal with.
Can Joseph Bertrand and Rayvonte Rice take on more of a ball-handling, combo guard role? Because odds are they're going to have to. We can't just rely on Tate and LaTulip to back up Tracy, and we can't have Tracy playing 40 minutes a night either.
There's also Kendrick Nunn, but like Tate, he's a true freshman and I don't want to put too much on his plate too early.
But now it appears that John Groce isn't going to have much of a choice. He no doubt wanted to bring his five freshman along slowly, but that's no longer an option unless he's considering a six-man rotation with LaTulip being some kind of super sub.
Just look at our eligible roster for the upcoming season.
Your likely starting lineup right now is Abrams, Bertrand, Rice, Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu.
Your bench is LaTulip, Austin Colbert, Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate.
That's right. Your bench is five true freshman and a sophomore walk-on. That's not exactly the kind of depth built to survive and succeed in the Big Ten. Hopefully our freshman will be quick learners and can contribute right off the bat, helping this team stay afloat in the conference and get to the NCAA Tournament.
But those were goals that were going to be difficult to achieve with Ahmad Starks in the fold. It's only going to be more difficult to do so now.
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