Goal for new Illini Starks: NCAA tourney

Goal for new Illini Starks: NCAA tourney

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.”

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JimOATSfan wrote on May 29, 2013 at 12:05 am

Welcome aboard Mr Starks! We'll take 2 wins in the NCAA's Madness next year thank you. 

The 2013-2014 team will be an amazing blend of new & old players meshing under this great coaching staff.  Just a bit next-Harry-Potter-ish-movie entertainment = Can't Wait To See It.

Go Illini!

IlliniMike05 wrote on May 29, 2013 at 10:05 am

If Starks is eligible right away, I like our chances to be better in '13-'14 than we were in '12-'13. I think Tracy will be much-improved if a lot of the ball-screen action BP3 used last year goes to Tracy, and obviously Starks gives him a lot of help in the ballhandling department. DJ and BP3's experience and defense will be missed, but those two with Bertrand, Rice and the freshmen make for a deep, versatile backcourt.

We're still going to be thin at power forward unless either Morgan or Colbert has an Augustine-like freshman season to help out Ekey (don't rule it out; I think they're both solid prospects, and who expected Augie to have that good of a freshman year?), but I think Nnanna's performance against Miami was more than a blip; it's a a sign of big things to come in his junior year. I wouldn't be surprised if Nnanna's a top-three big man in the conference (along with Adrian Payne and Noah Vonleh). He'll need to stay out of foul trouble enough to stay on the court for 30 minutes a game, but we saw Augie and Cook both overcome that problem once they became upperclassmen. Another solution: go small and create some mismatches with either Rice or Hill at the 4 for stretches. With a smaller stretch 4 like Ekey and good-but-not-great freshmen like Morgan and Colbert being your other options, it's not like it's going to hurt your rebounding all that much more. A lot of teams play wings at the 4 already; Hill's 6'7" and Rice is physical enough to handle players taller than him. I think it's worth a look, and with there being far more depth in the backcourt now than up front, it gets more guys on the court who are deserving of minutes than leaving them at their traditional spot would.

Obviously Starks helps with ballhandling, but more importantly, Starks- and Ekey- shore up the three-point shooting for a team that looked to be void of it. That's 3-4 made threes a game at 36-38 percent I think those two can give us.

I will say this, though: this is a total boom-or-bust in terms of whether or not he's eligible this year. If he has to sit out a year then we're back to being short on 2014 scholarships (and with no more player movement likely before November's signing day, now's the time when you can fret about how many '14 spots will be open) and after likely playing quite a bit as freshmen, Tate and/or Nunn either have their development stunted by playing less as a sophomore, or Starks can't beat them out and it's a total waste of a spot.


PortlandIllini wrote on May 29, 2013 at 9:05 am

Welcome home!   You'll find playing in front of the Orange Crush in  The Hall Previously Known as Assembly much more enjoyable than playing in tiny and empty Gill Coliseum.    Yes,  your former coach was the brother-in-law of the President but you'll discover that political connection don't matter on the court.  Coach Gross knows how to maximize his player's skills.   Go Illini! 

IlliniMike05 wrote on May 29, 2013 at 9:05 am

Coach Groce is pretty good, too.