A bad offseason got even worse for the Fighting Illini on Friday night when junior forward Darius Paul was officially dismissed from the program following his latest arrest in France. There have been a few suspensions handed out during the Groce era (Paul, Aaron Cosby, and Rayvonte Rice), but this is the first time that a player has actually been kicked off the team.
Here's how the situation will impact the team in 2015 and beyond.
The loss of Paul is definitely a blow to the team's front court since he was primed to see considerable time as one of the first players off the bench. Leron Black was always going to be the starter, but his style of play has often resulted in foul trouble and it'll now be up to someone else to fill in behind him.
There are a few different ways that the team can go. My preference (and that's really the only thing that counts, you guys) would be to insert Michael Finke into that role while Mike Thorne Jr. and Maverick Morgan primarily handle the responsibilities at center. The other option would be to slide Malcolm Hill back to the 'fourth guard/power forward' role that he had a year ago. The only problem with that, aside from moving the best player out of his natural position, would be some defensive concerns against bigger opponents.
Paul's departure also means that the team has an open scholarship. It's very unlikely that they'd take another freshman or transfer at this point, but accepting a mid-year transfer wouldn't be completely out of the question. Look for the scholarship to be awarded to one of the walk-ons (i.e. Mike LaTulip) for the second semester if it goes unclaimed through January.
Assuming Tracy Abrams doesn't return to the Illini, Paul's departure results in four openings for the 2016 recruiting class. That number will go back down to three should Abrams return after taking a medical redshirt. The coaching staff will be looking to add a point guard and at least one big man--the rest is a bit up in the air right now. Here's my prediction for how things will shake out:
- Point guard (Xavier Simpson, Charlie Moore, or Te'Jon Lucas)
- Big man (James Banks, Clevon Brown, Jayce Johnson)
- Wing (Xavier Sneed or Zach Norvell)
- 5th year transfer (reasoning below)
The 2017 recruiting class won't be impacted unless the Illini do indeed add a fourth multi-year player to the fold--the available scholarships would then decrease from five to four. Given the talented in-state prospects for this year, it's entirely possible--maybe even likely--that the program will attempt to bring in another fifth year transfer. That way they'd be able to fill all thirteen 2016-17 roster spots without sacrificing what may be a pivotal scholarship.