That was our three transfers' season in the eyes of the fans (via www.illinoisloyalty.com).
The Sit-Out Year Bunch explored the depths of their closets with each home game and found a comfortable spot on their apartment futon for the road games. Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul knew this was their fates for the season after their dual decisions to transfer to Illinois last spring.
Ahmad Starks took a different path to the Sit-Out Year. He transferred to Illinois to be closer to his ailing grandmother in Chicago, believing that would be enough to persuade the NCAA to grant him a hardship waiver to play immediately. In a totally predictable move, the NCAA denied the waiver for reasons even head coach John Groce said he couldn't fathom. Thus, the Sit-Out Year extended its reach and wrapped its arms around Starks, too.
From there, we saw little and heard even less. All three players participated in the Orange and Blue Scrimmage, which amounts to a landfill pile in terms of analyses of their ball skills. Then they sat again.
With plenty of storylines throughout the season, the Sit-Out Year Bunch didn't get much pub. But the floodgates opened at Groce's end-of-the-year press conference. Here's a smattering:
Three collective guys' ability to score sticks out. They can score. They have a knack for scoring the basketball.
The biggest noticeably difference on all three of them is how their bodies look. They pulled off the Ray Rice deal.
Ahmad played Princeton offense at OSU, so assist numbers might be lower than here. Need both Tracy and Ahmad to do well.
Can be a "significantly" better shooting team with what it adds in Cosby and Starks.
Darius Paul has gained 29 pounds since he's come to Illinois. Lot of it is muscle.
Floodgates, right? There's much to unpack here before overanalyzing a few sentences made in a press conference.
Paul can play 4 or 5.
First off, you have to love how Rayvonte Rice ruined the Sit-Out Year for all future Illini transfers. I envision Groce nagging all those transfers during the season, holding them to the Rayvonte standard of body transformation, weight lifting and skill improvement. The transfers probably hate Rice.
All that being said, Darius Paul did a reverse Rayvonte and packed on almost 29 pounds of muscle since his arrival to campus. That's a ton of weight for someone that already possessed a good build and probably leads to his versatility of playing the 4 or 5 position.
It's hard to forecast Paul's 2014-2015 season with the logjam in the frontcourt. Nnanna Egwu almost has to play 30 minutes for his defensive value, while Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert are due for a freshman-to-sophomore leap. Throw in Malcolm Hill and Leron Black's time at the 4, and who knows where Paul's impact will be felt.
Cosby and Starks are imminent contributors, however. For a team that was often destitute in the basketball fundamental of shooting last year, injecting two good shooters into the lineup will open up limitless avenues on the offensive end.
Let's say Rayvonte is in the game and burns his defenders on a dribble drive, per usual. Help defense is critical in defending Rayvonte, so someone on defense has to slide over before he trucks to the hoop for points. If a lineup of Nnanna-Cosby-Starks-Hill is on the court, that leaves three guys (Hill, Cosby, Starks) that shoot between 36 percent and 40 percent from 3-point range and a big man that can step out and knock down a jumpshot. That's lethal and will give defenses headaches deciding when to help and who to help off of to stop the drive to the hoop.
Starks' numbers suggest that his biggest strength is 3-point shooting, as his field goal percentage has mirrored his 3-point percentage. I like his free throw numbers (a career 85 percent shooter) and it sounds like his assist numbers should increase out of the Princeton offense.
Cosby shot 40 percent from 3-point range on 165 attempts in his last season with Seton Hall. I would guess with the volume of guards on next year's squad, he'll end up in a similar attempts range, and could be a candidate to boost that percentage even higher. Groce has noted he also possesses point guard capabilities, giving a versatile roster more variability. If Groce wanted to have some fun, he could potentially put a lineup of Cosby-Nunn-Rice-Hill on the court and set some offensive points per possession records. Ok, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.
Starks was ideal for last year's lineup, but the denied waiver won't stop Illinois from using him for more lineup tinkering and variances. Adding the three transfers is exciting not just for the added bodies, but the discernible skill they bring to the team. It could turn a good team into a second weekend of the NCAA Tournament team.