Welcome back to our 2014-15 Illinois Basketball player evaluations! We'll be starting this series off with the seniors before moving on to the freshman, sophomores, and juniors in that order. You can expect the segments to be published about every two to three days. In this segment we look at Ahmad Starks' 2014-15 season.
Ahmad Starks | Senior | PG
Graduate transfers have been a constant during John Groce's first three seaons in Champaign. In 2013 there was Sam McLaurin, Jon Ekey was the man in 2014, and Ahmad Starks filled the role this year. However, Starks' path to the Illini was a bit different; he transferred to be closer to his grandmother, but the NCAA denied him the right to play in 2013-14.
Starks started out the season strong (so did everyone else), and looked like a big offensive upgrade over Tracy Abrams. He chucked up a ton of long shots, but that was alright as he was making them at a rate of 37%. That figure quickly dropped off once Big Ten play began. When Starks stepped into shots he was very good, but too often he was forcing bad shots that were early in the shot clock. His play became so bad and inconsistent that Coach Groce decided to bench him in favor of Jaylon Tate.
Starks' may have been benched, but his production became much more consistent down the stretch when he re-took the starting job from Jaylon Tate. The poor shot selection wasn't as prevalent and he provided a nice offensive spark each time he checked into the game. Starks scored 17 points in Illinois' blowout win over Northwestern, but he then proceeded to score just 16 points in the final four games of the season--including a 1-7 shooting night against Alabama in the NIT.
Starks averaged double figures during the first three years of his collegiate career at Oregon State, but he was only able to produce 7 points and 2 assists per game this time around. Overall, his time in Champaign was more successful than Cosby's, but it wasn't quite what we were looking for.
Indiana | January 18
Starks found his stroke big time in this crucial game against Indiana; we finally got to see what it was like when he was hitting on all cylinders, and he was definitely a major factor in the game. Starks finished the night with season-high 19 points (including 5 threes), 6 assists, and only one turnover while going head-to-head with Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr.
Starks' game against Iowa was a close second for his best performance. He had a great shooting night while matching his season-high 19 points that he originally scored in the Indiana game. The Hawkeyes made several runs in this contest, but Starks carried the load for the Illini and kept them in the game for most of the second half.
Final Grade: C
It's important to note that Starks was recruited to be a backup point guard for a season--he was forced into a starting role when Tracy Abrams went down with injury.
With that said, Starks was just average this season. He definitely had some nice moments, but, asides from his all-around effort against Indiana, it was never anything too spectacular. There were some games where he was an A, and some where he was an F (so, duh, that pretty much equals C).
Starks time at Illinois was very short, and he will be mostly be remembered for chucking up 147 threes, and countless more with a foot on the line. He may have a shot at playing overseas, but it's unlikely. We wish him the best of luck as he continues his professional career and life. Once an Illini, always an Illini.