Well, this certainly comes as a surprise.
And it might very well be the biggest Illini news we get for months.
Alan Griffin is transferring, a decision he announced on his Twitter page Tuesday evening. We won’t get into any nitty gritty details about what happened — we have no idea — or even try to speculate, but this has some serious ramifications for Brad Underwood and Co. going forward, especially when it comes two days before the Illini were hoping to be playing in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
Need to replace Alan’s production.
Alan never really started for the Illini, but he was playing starter minutes at some moments toward the end of his shortened sophomore campaign. Except for the suspension following the Purdue stomp and a few games where Griffin disappeared, he was arguably the team’s most reliable shooter for most of the season’s second half.
8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds aren’t just going to replace themselves after the season the Illini just had, and it’s even more complicated by the fact that you lose a guard like Andres Feliz. Forget about Ayo for a second, this team was really, for the most part, going to return everything from its roster that finish in the top-25. This team very well could have started next year even higher than No. 21, and then get up even higher (top-10???) with a strong non-conference showing.
Those points are tough to just find, with unknowns like Jacob Grandison and Austin Hutcherson going to be taking some of those minutes.
Someone has to start now.
Alan had to be a lock to start in 2020 as a junior. If not, then what the hell is Brad thinking?
So, now someone has to step in.
Assume Ayo leaves, you’re rolling with Trent, Kofi, Adam Miller, Andre Curbelo and? Giorgi? Probably not at this point. Hutcherson or Grandison? Can’t see that happening. Tev? Not sure he’ll be on the team. Jermaine Hamlin?
See where this is going? Suddenly Coleman Hawkins might be in the conversation to start.
Not that the starting lineup means everything, but Griffin was a sparkplug off the bench, and you know very well as an upperclassman it could have been critical to be able to replace Ayo or Andres with some scoring and playmaking. All three of those guys are likely gone now.
This slightly opens the door for Ayo’s return.
My heart tells me Brad Underwood wouldn’t do this when the team — minus Trent and all-time Illini great Frankie Williams’ son — is his guys, but next year’s roster had to be somewhat built with the idea in mind that Ayo was going to leave. And the only way to even open a spot for Ayo to leave is to force someone else off the team.
In a way, this assumes Ayo’s already on next year’s roster. Which is cool, because the team would be very good (less good without Alan, but still good). And nothing else would really have to change.
Whether Ayo is enticed by that option now of knowing what his roster will look like may not be true at all. I still totally expect him to test whatever the draft waters will look like during the pandemic, but he may come back now a bit more than we thought before.
And, to Alan, sorry you didn’t get to play in a tournament, but thanks for laying the groundwork. Best of luck wherever you land.