Tracy Abrams will miss a second-consecutive year due to injury. On Tuesday, the university announced that the senior guard will be sidelined for the entire 2015-16 season after suffering a torn left Achilles tendon during practice on Monday. Surgery has been scheduled for August 5th, which means Abrams won't even be able to travel with his teammates to Europe for the program's overseas exhibition trip.
In case you missed it, here's a statement from John Groce that was included in Tuesday's press release:
"First of all, my heart goes out to Tracy," head coach John Groce said. "He went through so much the last 10 months fighting back from a torn ACL to return to the court this summer in preparation for the upcoming season. So this is obviously a very difficult time for him right now. But I've said it before that Tracy has the heart of a champion, and I know that he will handle this latest setback with the same courage and resolve in making a full recovery."
Here's video of Groce's media session later in the afternoon, where he updated reporters on the situation.
This is terrible for everyone involved, but I can't even begin to imagine what's going through Abrams' head; all of that rehab and hard work he put in over the past 12+ months has been for nothing. The injury news alone is sickening, but its implications on the Illini are far worse. It's only July and the season outlook has flipped 180 degrees in the span of about a week.
In short, this situation isn't good. It isn't good at all.
With Tracy Abrams out of the equation, Jaylon Tate is the only active point guard on Illinois' roster. He will be the starter. That could be a serious problem if the rising-junior hasn't learned how to shoot this offseason.
So this is the shot chart in 2014-2015 for my assumed starting point guard in 2015-2016. *welp* pic.twitter.com/BieCYeNX2m— John Brumbaugh (@IlliniBoard) July 28, 2015
Even if he's improved in this area, someone else will absolutely still have to step up because Tate can't be playing 40 minutes per game.
Incoming freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands can probably be used at the position, but he's out for the rest of the Summer with a stress fracture in his leg. Making the transition from shooting guard to point guard requires a lot of reps and it'd be quite a hurdle for him with just a few weeks of preseason practice. It wouldn't be out of the question to see Kendrick Nunn or even Aaron Jordan gets some reps at the position, either. They're both in the same situation as Coleman-Lands, but they'd each have quite a bit of time to make it work.
However the most intriguing option may be freshman forward D.J. Williams. The Chicago native often filled a point-forward role at Simeon during his senior year so he has some previous experience to potentially build off of; he's even stated that point guard is his favorite position to play. For Illinois to pull this off in games, John Groce would have to experiment with the defensive assignments--there's no way Williams would be able to guard his position at the collegiate level just yet.
The bottom line is that Groce needs to find a way to improvise in his fourth year as head coach. You can argue that expectations have changed now, but this will be the defining season of his tenure at Illinois.