First look at Groce's 2014-15 Illini
A look at the 2014-15 Illinois men’s basketball team as it stands right now:
Tracy Abrams l 6-2, Senior
What he was: The starting point guard who showed flashes of the high-caliber player he can be (Missouri, Indiana), but also displayed inconsistencies that drove fans mad at times (Clemson).
What he can be: With an improved jumpshot coupled with better decision making on a consistent basis, more often than not he can be the better version of himself. He’ll be pushed for that starting spot by fellow senior Ahmad Starks.
Leron Black l 6-7, Freshman
What he was: The key cog for Memphis White Station’s 31-3 juggernaut, averaging 20 points and 12 boards for one of the nation’s top teams en route to being named Class AAA Mr. Basketball in Tennessee.
What he can be: Another impact freshman in the mold of Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill who could be a major contributor immediately depending on how quickly he adjusts to the level of play. Motor isn’t an issue with the forward, but strength might be.
Austin Colbert l 6-9, Sophomore
What he was: A seldom-used backup forward whose only meaningful action was a minute or two at a time in spot situations when others ran into foul trouble.
What he can be: A talented versatile forward who could be an asset to the rotation if he continues to gain size and strength as well as a consistent motor at both ends of the floor.
Aaron Cosby l 6-3, Junior
What he was: One of three players who sat out the season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. Our only glimpses of the former Seton Hall Pirate was during pregame workouts at State Farm Center, where he put on shooting exhibitions.
What he can be: A combo guard who can create off the bounce as well as stretch the floor as a shooter to open driving lanes for others. Will challenge Kendrick Nunn for the starting slot at the 2.
Nnanna Egwu l 6-11, Senior
What he was: The team’s top defensive player, whose worth extended well beyond what the stat sheet showed. A reliable mid-range shooter who was inconsistent at times as a shooter and on the block offensively.
What he can be: A member of the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team if his effort as a senior matches what it did as a junior. With improved play in the paint on offense to go along with extended range on his shot, he could be a more reliable offensive threat.
Michael Finke l 6-9, Freshman
What he was: The two-time News-Gazette’s Area Player of the Year who did a little bit of everything for Centennial, scoring 20 points per game and recording 13 double-doubles en route to being named first-team all-state by the IBCA and The News-Gazette.
What he can be: A big shooter who can stretch the floor and make opposing coaches scratch their heads when deciding matchups. How quickly he can add strength and adjust to the pace of the game determines what his role will be with the team as a freshman.
Malcolm Hill l 6-6, Sophomore
What he was: A blossoming freshman who played his best basketball during the season’s stretch run after entering the starting lineup. He made nine of his last 15 three-point attempts while playing the 4 and the 3 spots.
What he can be: A versatile wing player who has the talent to make a major jump as a sophomore with a productive summer that will require some added strength on his young frame.
Mike LaTulip l 6-1, Junior
What he was: A backup guard who saw action at the 1 and the 2 in emergency situations and late in one-sided games. The team’s go-to energy source on the bench.
What he can be: A talented shooter, the walk-on will have his work cut out to see playing time behind a stockpile of guards entering the 2014-15 season.
Maverick Morgan l 6-10, Sophomore
What he was: The backup center who played primarily in situations when Egwu needed a rest or found himself in foul trouble. Displayed a nice touch around the basket in limited offensive opportunities.
What he can be: Like his classmates, Morgan will need to add some strength and some nastiness on the interior to bring an element of toughness to the team. Will look to add a go-to post move, as well as extending his range as the backup center.
Kendrick Nunn l 6-3, Sophomore
What he was: A Big Ten All-Freshman team honoree after exploding during the final two months of the season as a starter at the 2 guard spot. A reliable outside shooter who had a knack for getting into the lane and finishing, too.
What he can be: An All-Big Ten performer with a strong offseason, though he’ll be in a battle for a starting spot with Aaron Cosby. An improved handle could make him a more dangerous offensive threat.
Darius Paul l 6-8, Sophomore
What he was: The younger brother of former Illini star Brandon Paul sat out the season after transferring from Western Michigan. The power forward added 29 pounds to his frame during the offseason and expanded his skill set during the sit-out year.
What he can be: The team’s most gifted offensive post player can be the type of banger the Illini have been seeking for years. He adds depth to the frontcourt and should challenge for a spot near the top of the rotation.
Rayvonte Rice l 6-4, Senior
What he was: The team’s best player at both ends who could score from all three levels of the floor as well as get to the free throw line. Also a defensive stopper on the perimeter.
What he can be: With more shooters on the floor, the driving lanes should open up for him to be able to get to the bucket and score without facing double and triple teams. An honorable-mention All-Big Ten pick could move up that list with more reliable pieces around him.
Ahmad Starks l 5-9, Senior
What he was: A transfer from Oregon State who expected to play last season before the NCAA ruled against his immediate eligibility. Spent the season working out along Aaron Cosby with assistant coach Jamall Walker, learning the system at both ends of the floor.
What he can be: Good enough to be the team’s starting point guard with his ability to shoot from three (Oregon State’s all-time leader in made threes) and create for others off the ball screen.
Jaylon Tate l 6-3, Sophomore
What he was: The backup point guard who burst onto the scene early in the season, leading the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio during the beginning of the campaign, though he slowed during the conference season.
What he can be: With added strength and an improved jump shot, the pass-first guard product can challenge Tracy Abrams and Ahmad Starks for playing time at the point.