With the recent announcement of Kendrick Nunn's thumb injury that will have him out 8 weeks, it became obvious that the Fighting Illini are either cursed, unlucky, or a combination of the two. The sheer amount of injuries that coach Groce has had to deal with this offseason is incredible, and with two consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth, things aren't exactly looking up for the Fighting Illini program. Here's a look at the injuries Illinois has sustained.
The announcement of Tracy Abrams' season-ending ACL injury was a huge loss for the Illini in 2014. Before seeing any court time, the senior was forced to sit out the entire season. After a year of rehab and recovery, the Illinois point guard was finally ready to get out on the court for his senior season only to get sent right back to the bench. Abrams suffered a torn achilles in practice early in the offseason; he will once again be sidelined for another year.
If you think these injuries have been frustrating for the Fighting Illini, think about how frustrating they must be for Tracy Abrams. The senior waits a whole year to get back on to the court, spends just about all of his time recovering and preparing, and gets sent right back to the drawing boards after getting hurt yet again. Abrams looks to return to play for Illinois next season as he applies for a medical redshirt in which he could be granted a sixth year of eligibility.
Illinois' top incoming freshman suffered a stress fracture back in the summer, and it was unsure as to how much basketball he would actually miss. Coleman-Lands didn't get a chance to play in Illinois' Euro-Tour and subsequently missed out on some pre-season experience.
While it looks as if Jalen Coleman-Lands may in fact be back in time for Illinois' first game of the season, he may be playing positions he's unaccustomed to. While Illinois did get a good point guard in LaSalle transfer Khalid Lewis, the depth at point guard still lacks significantly. As a result, Coleman-Lands could be thrown at the top of the key and asked to man the point; his most comfortable position is shooting guard.
It was just recently announced last week that sophomore power forward Leron Black will be out 4-6 weeks with a torn right meniscus. Subsequently, the Fighting Illini will now open the season with out their two solid 4s: Leron Black and Darius Paul (dismissed for...other reasons). Just when it looked as if the Fighting Illini had solid frontcourt heading into the 2015-16 season, they now have to just get by while players get healthy.
Leron Black has proven to be a huge asset in an Illini team that lost a lot of players to graduation this offseason. He was clearly the most valuable player of Illinois' Euro-Tour, putting up good numbers on both ends of the floor. This injury stings, but the Illini should have Black back sooner than later.
Though nothing serious, Jaylon Tate did suffer a concussion in practice just a week ago. You should expect to see Tate in the starting lineup at the start of the season, and he will be a much needed asset with the absence of Tracy Abrams.
It was recently announced that Kendrick Nunn will undergo surgery for an injured thumb and subsequently miss 8 weeks of collegiate basketball. The junior is one of the more experienced players that the Illini have on their roster, and his absence really hurts. He and Malcolm Hill should be the dynamic duo for Illinois this season, but Nunn's injury sets him back just a little bit.
With Nunn out for the start of the season, don't be surprised to see Aaron Jordan get a lot of playing time at the guard position along with teammate Jalen Coleman-Lands. The two freshman will have heavy roles to play in their first games as collegiate basketball players, but with the bad luck that the Fighting Illini have had, they need to step up.
Illinois' injury-plagued offseason is unlike any other; Illinois may have lost itself a chance at a solid season before even taking the court for the first time. It's tough not to feel for head coach John Groce. There may not be any coach who has dealt with more adversity off the court than Groce in the past two seasons. While there are some things that could've been prevented (suspensions/dismissals), injuries are just a matter of bad luck.
These five injuries will really take their toll on Illinois when the 2015-16 season begins. All it means is that Groce is going to have to utilize a variety of new faces in order to get the job done. Though there may be some adversity on the road to success, the Fighting Illini Basketball Program needs to battle through the rough bumps in the road in order to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.