Tate: Starks shows promise, now sits

Tate: Starks shows promise, now sits

Playmaking guards with three-point skills are scarce, so coach John Groce was counting on an experienced Ahmad Starks this season. Starks projected as a key contributor.

An NCAA ruling denying his eligibility changed that. And Illini fans got an idea Thursday night what the team will be missing. Starks’ quick-twitch activity in the Orange and Blue Scrimmage demonstrated how he averaged 10.2 in 97 games for Oregon State, setting a school record for treys (185).

“It was fun to play in this atmosphere tonight,” said the 5-foot-9 Whitney Young product. “I’ll keep working hard. I’m learning a lot on both ends of the court, on defensive adjustments and how hard we have to play.”

Starks paid his own way at summer school to prepare for this season. He anticipated a favorable NCAA ruling based on his desire to be close to his ailing grandmother in Chicago.

“I wasn’t expecting this (turndown),” he said. “It is what it is. I’m still close to my grandmother so that’s a great feeling. The team is on the court a lot, but I talk to her on the phone and go home when we have time off. We’ve been going through some tough times with my grandmother, and a few other things family-wise.”

Starks confirmed that his scholarship is good for this season and next.

“That was the plan when I came in. It was agreed that I’d be on scholarship for two years.”  

Get to work

The State Farm Center renovation undertaking will be apparent sooner than you might think.

As of Dec. 1, the southeast parking lot will be closed and will serve as the main staging area for the next three years. It’ll be filled with trailers, dumpsters, etc., and if weather cooperates, utility work on the building will get underway in mid-December.

Within 36 hours after the final home game with Michigan on March 4, the first phase will begin and will include demolition work on the west entrance as well as the east and south sides.

Tom Michael, the DIA’s project coordinator, said all State Farm Center offices and personnel, including the ticket office, will be closed and moved to other sites in March. There will be no changes inside the bowl at this time.

“Our timeline is tight and we’ll be very aggressive,” Michael said. “You’ll see significant changes by May.”

Tate’s tidbits

— Freshman Maverick Morgan was handed an eye-opener during Thursday’s scrimmage when his first six shots were blocked, although he drew fouls on two of them by Nnanna Egwu. But Egwu was the dominant front-line player Thursday, showing marked improvement since last season. Said Starks: “Nnanna is great. He rebounds, shoots and has a better low-post game, as you saw tonight. When they double him he can get the ball to whoever’s open.”

— With Starks ineligible, the duel to back up Tracy Abrams at point lies between freshman Jaylon Tate and sophomore walk-on Mike LaTulip, and the latter must be taken seriously in the wake of his hustling 15-point performance. Groce noted that
LaTulip’s added strength makes him a better defender. His shooting ability goes without question.

— Mike Krzyzewski isn’t withholding his opinion on Maryland’s move to the Big Ten. Said the Duke coach Thursday: “They were a charter member of the ACC and I feel bad. Playing Maryland was something very special. I think it is a mistake on both sides (Maryland and the Big Ten).”

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.