During his three-year career at Oregon State, Ahmad Starks and the Beavers failed to reach the NCAA tournament. So when the former Whitney Young star made the decision to leave the Pacific Northwest in an effort to be closer to his family, which includes an ailing grandmother back home in Chicago, choosing a program that could afford him an opportunity to reach the Dance was important.
“I’ve had a pretty good career and done some good things, but that’s something I’ve never done before,” Starks said Monday after informing Illinois coach John Groce that he will be continuing his collegiate career with the Illini.
Whether he will be helping the Illini during the upcoming 2013-14 season or the following one remains to be seen. Under normal NCAA transfer rules, Starks would have to sit out a season before becoming eligible to play in games at his new school. But because of the situation with his grandmother, who he says is getting along all right, Starks and Illinois will apply for a hardship waiver from the NCAA that would make him eligible immediately.
“We’re going to start that process soon,” he said. “I don’t know how long it will take. I’ve heard it could be as long as two months.”
Starks averaged 10.2 points and shot 37 percent from behind the three-point line for the Beavers in his three seasons in Corvallis, which included 73 starts for the 5-foot-9 point guard.
He joins Illinois State’s Jon Ekey, Seton Hall’s Aaron Cosby and Western Michigan’s Darius Paul as players who have announced plans to transfer to Illinois during this offseason. Ekey, a fifth-year player, is eligible to play immediately after completing his degree at Illinois State, while Cosby and Paul will sit out under the transfer rules.
Starks is the sixth player to transfer into the Illinois program since John Groce took over in March of 2012. Sam McLaurin (Coastal Carolina) played for the Illini last season and Rayvonte Rice (Drake) sat out last season and will be available this season.
Illinois will also welcome a five-player freshman class this summer, too.
“They want me to be a veteran leader and bring that experience,” said Starks, who is currently finishing classes at Oregon State. “We’ve got a lot of new guys, a lot of transfers, so we’re just going to try to come together and hopefully make a run to the NCAA tournament again. I think it’s a really good team. I feel like we have a good team if we put it together.”
Starks visited the Illinois campus on May 2. He also considered Bradley but said he didn’t make any other visits.
“This is my last shot and I just wanted to make sure it was the right decision,” Starks said. “I feel like it is and I’m excited for the opportunity to get there and start working.”
Starks was recruited by Illinois and former coach Bruce Weber out of high school, but he said the process went in a different direction.
“I committed so early and it just worked out that way,” Starks said. “I’ve always been a fan. That’s the state school. That orange and blue, I wore that in high school. I can’t wait to put it back on again.”