Illinois was dealt a double dose of bad news last week, first Tracy Abrams went down with a torn ACL and will be out the entire season, and then Jalen Brunson chose to head out of state to Villanova. While it is never great to lose out on a 5 star point guard from your own backyard, Illinois is still in the mix for another 5 star point guard Jawan Evans, and already landed 5 star combo guard Jalan Coleman. They can and hopefully will move on and still get a really good 2015 recruiting class. Abram’s injury on the other hand is a huge hit for this current season and has ramifications for next season as well.
Illinois had a disappointing season last year with most expecting that they would make the NCAA Tournament. While as we all know that did not happen, the last few weeks of the season brought about a big change in Illinois and they played very well down the stretch. The entire starting line-up that played during that stretch was set to return this year and with the addition of two transfers and two freshman, Illinois looked primed to take a large leap. The heart of this year’s team was and still will be senior point guard Tracy Abrams. He has been the leader on and off the floor for Illinois the past couple years, and his leadership ability seemed to be coming to its pinnacle as we entered this coming season. Beyond the intangibles, Illinois will be losing a player that averaged 30 minutes, 10.7 points, 3.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.
Not only will Abram’s injury effect this season by losing out on his above mentioned contributions, Illinois will also lose out on a valuable scholarship for next year. Illinois is still very much in the mix for a number of highly ranked players around the country. With two players DJ Williams and Aaron Jordan already committed, Illinois had a few scholarships to use on players such as Jawan Evans, Elijah Thomas, Carlton Bragg and Doral Moore. Now with Abrams taking one of the scholarships, it limits some of the options Illinois as when accepting commitments. Abrams can bring a lot to the fold, but it's just something to keep in mind as the program goes forward. Illinois is in one many elite 2015 talents and missing out on even one could be felt in future seasons.
Now that we have discussed what Abrams injury means for Illinois, we can get back to the original question at hand. How will Illinois survive the season without Tracy Abrams? It might be an unpopular opinion, but the short answer is easily. If any team can weather an injury of the magnitude, this year’s Illinois team is perfectly situated. Last year, Illinois got the bad news that Ahmad Starks would not get granted immediate eligibility. This has turned out to be a huge stroke of good luck. You now have as a number one option for replacing Abrams, a fifth year senior that averaged 29 minutes, 10.4 points 2.3 assists and 1 steal per game for Oklahoma State in 2013. If those stats sound familiar that is because they match almost exactly what you lose with Abrams. Starks also had all those stats while shooting a higher field goal and three point percentage. Illinois will have a player with almost the same stats on the court and still have Abrams on the sideline to be able to take advantage of his leadership qualities.
Now I know what everyone’s first argument will be for what I just wrote above, "Illinois could have had both players this season". While it is true that Illinois would have had both players, it would have been very hard to have them on the court at the same time. Most years either Tracy or Ahmad would get pushed to the shooting guard position to augment their minutes. But Illinois has way too many players at the 2 and 3 spot for many minutes to be available. What would have ended happening, would be one player, probably Starks because he is new, would have been underutilized. Now both players will be fully utilized, Starks this season and Abrams next. Now you have a fifth year senior point guard to lead this year and next year’s team.
With all that being said, Tracy Abrams injury is a terrible thing that happened to a great kid. He is an extremely hard worker, and I hope that he bounces back for a great senior year next year. You never want to hear that your team has an injured player, especially one at such a pivotal position like point guard. John Groce brought in players to make sure that the team could weather such an injury and it will allow Illinois to still be a very dangerous team come March.