The most avid Illini fans may remember Ahmad Starks, as his time in the orange and blue isn’t too far removed for most of us. But his career with the Illini is something that may get overlooked due to the lack of postseason success that Illinois had during his time and his short stay in Champaign as a graduate transfer.
Most fans would likely categorize him as one of those rotational guys that added depth to past Illini teams.
And that’s what these columns are about: giving the supporting actors their due.
Starks came out of Whitney Young in Chicago as a largely unheralded recruit, receiving only 2 stars, according to ESPN, and he ended up signing with the Oregon State Beavers. He stands at only 5-foot-9, which may have contributed to his unsung recruit status.
In his three seasons at Oregon State (2010-13), Starks became a regular in the final two with 45 starts in 65 games. In his final season there, Starks put up 10.4 points per game, dished out 2.3 assists per game, and recorded 1 steal per game. He even shot close to 40% from three in that final season, likely a key reason for former Illini coach John Groce and staff targeting him as a graduate transfer.
Starks proved to be a capable contributor when called upon during this time with the Illini as a complementary scorer and facilitator, while usually playing second fiddle to more dominant scorers like a young Malcolm Hill and fellow transfer Rayvonte Rice. He put up almost 8 points per game and averaged over 2 assists per contest. While those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, it’s that kind of complementary play that helps the stars shine brighter while carrying some of the load in terms of offensive production and facilitating the offense.
Some fans may recall a particularly noteworthy performance from Starks in January 2015, where he brought down 6 rebounds and knocked down 5 triples en route to a 19-point performance in a losing effort against Indiana. The Illini didn’t have much to write home about in that 2014-15 season, but Starks helped provide some spark and excitement in some otherwise tough times to be an Illini basketball fan.
Starks is one of a few in a line of recent successful transfer guards for the Illini, being followed by recent Illini graduate Andres Feliz and incoming transfer guard Alfonso Plummer. Starks may not be remembered as fondly as Brandon Paul, Rice or Ayo Dosunmu, but he held an important role during his time with the Illini and brought the kind of experience and savvy that every team needs.