As Illinois' 2014-2015 season came to a close, it was clear that a changing of the guard was near. Key seniors Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu were bound to graduate in the late spring, headlining the list of four players the Fighting Illini were expected to lose during the offseason. Little to be known, it was only the beginning. The summer of 2015 saw a total eight men on the Illinois roster turn inactive for this coming year. For a variety of reasons, here are the biggest losses that the team faced this offseason.
Rayvonte Rice- Rice was the Illini's leading scorer this past season, putting up 16.5 PPG. The epicenter of Illinois' offense, John Groce and his guys will need to compensate for his scoring attack. Now playing professionally in Italy, Rice is the best all-around player that the Illini lost this summer. Many expect rising junior Malcolm Hill to pick up his slack this season.
Nnanna Egwu- Egwu is a difficult loss mainly because of his defensive presence. At 6-11 center, he anchored down the paint for the past four seasons in Champaign. While transfer Mike Thorne Jr. comes to fill this inside void, there's no question the Illini will miss Egwu's veteran leadership and hustle on the court this fall.
Ahmad Starks- After one sub-par transfer season at Illinois, Starks is lost to graduation. Considering he averaged 7.7 PPG this season, there shouldn't be much trouble in making up for his production on the court. The biggest downside is that the Illini no longer have a dependent second point guard to go to.
Ryan Schmidt- Essentially a mid-season roster plug, Schmidt is now gone for good. The manager turned walk-on has turned the page and will pursue a career in accounting.
Tracy Abrams- As far as morale goes, the loss of Abrams to injury for the second straight season is detrimental. After medically redshirting all of 2014-2015 due to a torn ACL, Abrams tore his Achilles tendon late this July and will again be sidelined for the duration of the year. Not only is this terrible news for Tracy, but Illinois also loses a key veteran leader that would be able to seriously contribute on the court (10.7 PPG, 3.2 APG in '13-14). It also prolongs the woes the Illini have experienced at the point guard position over the past two years. Ugh.
Austin Colbert- This spring, Colbert announced his decision to transfer from the University of Illinois to Old Dominion. A 6-9 back-up forward, the loss of Colbert means less depth in the Illini front court. While not a huge contributor (1.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG), his game was on the rise and will be missed for his minutes and athleticism.
Mike LaTulip (redshirting)- LaTulip also announced that he will be voluntarily redshirting the 2015-2016 season in order to qualify for a senior transfer next summer. Strictly a late game substitute, LaTulip's numbers won't make an impact on the Illini this year. His bench antics, however, are a loss in entertainment value.
Darius Paul- The biggest U of I offseason storyline was the arrest and subsequent dismissal of troubled Illini forward Darius Paul. After sitting out a year due to transfer eligibility rules in 2013-2014, Paul was supposed to play last season. That was until summer 2014 when he was charged in Champaign for public intoxication and resisting arrest. He was suspended the whole year, but was again slated to be in the Illinois roster for 2015-2016. This was until his latest arrest during Illinois' European tour earlier this month. Additionally to again being charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest, Paul was charged with vandalism as well. Last week, John Groce officially dismissed him from the program. This obviously is a blow to the Illinois morale and front court; Paul averaged over 17.0 PPG last year while playing at a JUCO level in Texas. The affect of this fallout still remains to be seen on the court.
Needless to say, this offseason was a big hurt for the Fighting Illini. What are your thoughts on this offseason and what's to come in the winter? Comment down below!