Paul's open scholarship creates possibilities; Isaac transferring
John Groce has the best idea of what he wants to do with his program.
That much is pretty clear, especially given the suspension he handed down on Tuesday to Darius Paul.
While the public only knew at the time of Paul's arrest on April 22, Groce foreshadowed what was to come Wednesday when he mentioned "multiple transgressions," in his statement on Tuesday suspending Paul for the entire 2014-15 season.
As our Mary Schenk and Marcus Jackson first reported on Wednesday, what Groce might have been referring to with the multiple transgressions part is two failed drug tests during the past season.
So Paul's arrest for resisting a peace officer (charges dismissed on Wednesday) and underage drinking (Paul pleaded guilty to that offense) weren't the first signs something might be amiss.
What does Illinois do now given Paul isn't on scholarship for the 2014-15 season? Here's some options.
Do nothing. Don't go out and get another player to fill the open scholarship Paul's situation has now created. The roster will stay at 12, one more player that Illinois had all of last season. Groce has stated repeatedly he wants to build more depth at Illinois and a 10-man rotation is still possible if Groce so chooses to go that route.
Hope like heck that Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert make strides. Both came to Illinois under different circumstances (Morgan wasn't as highly-touted but emerged as one of the best prep players in Ohio his senior year while Colbert was the higher-ranked prospect after playing at three high schools). Neither stood out on the offensive end last season, a role they'll need to increase production in this upcoming season.
More playing time for incoming freshmen Leron Black and Michael Finke. Both are power forwards, the same position Paul played. Both don't have the physical presence Paul would have likely brought to Illinois this season, but both have varying skill sets that could benefit Illinois. With Paul sidelined, though, it will be interesting to see what Groce does in terms of a possible redshirt for Finke.
Fill the roster spot. With a fifth-year transfer, a junior college transfer, a mid-year transfer from another Division I school or a high school player. The first situation would fill the most immediate need, and there are several players out there who are intriguing. The fifth-year transfer route would have the most immediate effect since they will be eligible to play right away and won't have to sit out a year. Same thing with a junior college transfer. A mid-year transfer might help out down the road, but isn't eligible to play next season and could then count against a scholarship for the Class of 2015, which has two open spots available. The chances to land a high school senior at this time is pretty slim since most of the talent has already signed letters of intent.
On the football side, news developed out of USC on Wednesday that former Joliet Catholic stud running back Ty Isaac is planning to transfer from the Trojans.
Isaac, if you remember, rushed for a whopping 515 yards on 26 carries for six touchdowns during Joliet Catholic's 70-45 loss to Montini during the 2011 Class 5A state title game at Memorial Stadium.
That performance, which allowed Isaac to finish with 2,629 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns on 203 carries, which meant he averaged about 13 yards a carry.
Injuries slowed Isaac down his senior season, but he was still one of the most highly-coveted running backs in the country.
He didn't enjoy a standout freshman season at USC, rushing for 236 yards on 40 carries and two TDs, but he has the potential to become a bonafide top running back at a high-major program.
Expect his recruitment to heat up, with Illinois throwing its hat in the mix.
But the Illini will have to fend off nearly every Big Ten school and Notre Dame since reports surfaced that Isaac wants to be closer to home.
The Illinois coaches have always desired a bigger running back, and at 6 feet, 3 inches and 225 pounds, Isaac fits that description.
If Illinois is able to land Isaac, that would be a huge recruiting boost for Tim Beckman.
Some may scoff that Illinois can reel in a player like Isaac's capabilities, but a year ago no one really thought Wes Lunt would choose Illinois.