CHAMPAIGN — In trying to rebuild the Illinois basketball roster, John Groce has gone the transfer route.
Last month Seton Hall combo guard Aaron Cosby and Illinois State forward Jon Ekey became the third and fourth players, respectively, to make a pledge to Illinois since Groce took the job last year.
By week’s end, that list might be as long as six with Oregon State guard Ahmad Starks making a visit to the UI campus today and Western Michigan forward Darius Paul scheduled to visit Friday.
Starks, a 5-foot-9 point guard from Chicago’s Whitney Young, started 73 games in three seasons at Oregon State, averaging 10.2 points and shooting 37 percent from behind the three-point line. Starks has said he’s leaving the Beavers so he can be closer to home and his ailing grandmother in Chicago. Starks, who has one year of eligibility remaining, is seeking a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play immediately without having to sit out a year per the normal transfer rules.
The 6-9, 225-pound Paul is the younger brother of former Illinois standout Brandon Paul, who finished his senior season with the Illini.
The younger Paul completed his inaugural season at Western Michigan, where he was named the Mid-American Conference’s Freshman of the Year after averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Paul has been contacted by several major programs since announcing his decision to leave Western Michigan last week. The Paul family has stated Darius, who would have three years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2013-14 season, is looking to play at a higher level than the midmajor MAC.
Last year, Groce took Champaign’s Rayvonte Rice, a transfer from Drake, who will be eligible this season after sitting out 2012-13. Sam McLaurin played for the Illini last season as a fifth-year transfer from Coastal Carolina.
Illinois will welcome five freshmen for the 2013-14 season along with Ekey, who is eligible immediately. Cosby, who has two years of eligibility, must sit out this season.
“For us, it made a lot of sense because of where we are right now,” Groce said earlier this week about the influx of transfers into the program. “We want to try to balance experience a little more with our youth and we were able to do that with some transfers.”
The Illini have one scholarship available for next season’s team.