Loren Tate: For starters, here's my hoops lineup
As with the new CBS science-fiction series, “Under the Dome,” those of us in the outside world have no hint what’s going on inside, in this case, the Ubben Basketball Complex.
So if you ask about John Groce’s starting lineup for 2013-14, my guesstimate would be months old. And it would be based on assumptions (and scuttlebutt) that freshmen Maverick Morgan, Austin Colbert and Jaylon Tate won’t be as far along as Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, that Joe Bertrand will ultimately be healthy, and that Jon Ekey will be serviceable as Tyler Griffey’s replacement. That sets up a starting quintet of Bertrand, Ekey, Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu and Rayvonte Rice ... and it’s up to you to determine where the rebounds will come from.
And what about 2014-15, when the transfers kick in? At that point, if Curie’s Cliff Alexander matriculates elsewhere, you might see a first: three transfers in an Illini lineup with Rice, Darius Paul and Aaron Cosby joining Abrams and Egwu.
Cosby and Paul are good fits because they fill needs at playmaking guard and power forward, respectively. Without the transfers, the Illini would be in big trouble.
Transfers of power
That’s the point that the Illini have reached in basketball and football. When they are rebuffed by the state’s elite blue-chippers — cagers like Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, or gridders like Laquon Treadwell and Jamarco Jones — UI coaches were forced into alternate routes. In basketball nationally, it is the wave of the future (think Missouri, Wichita State, etc.). The end of each season creates something resembling free agency.
In most cases, these veteran transfers are more proven than the second-line preps who might be available. Champaign’s Rice would be evaluated ahead of the state’s best available wing. Paul was the MAC’s Freshman of the Year. And Cosby demonstrated at Seton Hall that he is a quality ball handler and three-point shooter.
So if at first you don’t succeed, do the next best thing. That’s what Groce did. Since his arrival 16 months ago, he has taken six college transfers, and he had an edge because he knew or competed against most of them earlier.
In football, where defender Eric Finney is already a starter, the numbers are mounting. Counting Wes Lunt, 11 college or junior college transfers project in Tim Beckman’s rotation in 2014 ... and there is plenty of time to add more. At wide receiver alone, they’ll have jucos Martize Barr, Geronimo Allison and Tyrin Stone-Davis next season.
One sector needing help is the defensive line, which added 290-pound Abe Cajuste from Victor Valley CC in January. Illini fans are skeptical about the front four in a conference that emphasizes the run, and Akeem Spence’s departure increases the pressure on coach Greg Colby to develop a quartet of raw newcomers: Bryce Douglas, Jarrod Clements, Paul James and, if he grows beyond linebacker size, Dawuane Smoot. Illinois needs some “secret weapons” to rise up in the trenches. There could be some positive surprises here.
Gone but not forgotten:
Here’s a shout-out for two late giants: former UI fencing coach Maxwell Garret and one-time News-Gazette sports editor Pat Harmon.
Mac, as he was known, died in April at age 95. Pat passed Sunday at 97. I’d take either number, wouldn’t you?
Garret, a New Yorker, came to Illinois in 1940 and won 17 Big Ten fencing titles and two NCAA crowns before moving to Penn State in 1972. I once asked Mac to evaluate the sword-fighting skills of movie swashbucklers Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, and he replied: “They couldn’t have won in the Big Ten.”
Harmon also had a jovial personality and was a longtime star for the Cincinnati Post, serving there for 34 years and becoming part of Cincinnati’s sports history.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.