Abrams works hard — on and off court
CHAMPAIGN — Your last image of Tracy Abrams probably isn’t one you’re going to tell the grandkids about one day.
Clemson 50, Illinois 49, less than five seconds remaining in an NIT second-round game at Littlejohn Coliseum. With plenty of time to make a play, Abrams hoists a wild three-pointer from well beyond the line that misses everything and lands out of bounds.
Tigers win. Illinois’ season ends.
And, predictably, Twitter lights up Illinois’ starting point guard.
All of this happening less than two weeks after his floater in the lane fell short at the buzzer that would have lifted the Illini to a win against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament, a win that might have catapulted Illinois into the NCAA tournament.
“What was he thinking?” “Why was HE taking the shot? “Why was he even on the floor?”
Anything negative that could have been said about Abrams was, most of it from frustrated Illini fans.
Abrams caught wind of a lot of it.
“Those shots, it was hard going through that and experiencing that as a player because you know we were a game or two away from the (NCAA) tournament and knowing if I make one more shot, we’re there,” Abrams said. “I had to be real strong-minded about it. I’m not going to lie and say it went away just like that. I know people criticize a lot.”
Criticism has been a regular part of the collegiate experience for Abrams, but nothing like what he dealt with in March. Abrams has used the backlash as motivation to get better.
Abrams leaned on Illinois coach John Groce and assistant Jamall Walker to get past those rough patches.
“It’s a process that happens throughout your college career. I feel like everybody goes through some type of phase during that four-year process, and it’s all about how you respond to it and grow from it,” he said. “People get criticized every day. The best in the world, LeBron James, gets criticized. It’s all about how you respond to it. Are you going to let it break you? Are you going to let it motivate you? I just try to find ways to be positive, and that’s what’s helped.”
While the rest of his teammates went home at the end of the semester, Abrams, aside from a short trip to Los Angeles to visit a high school friend, remained in Champaign for the last month working on his body and game.
“It’s easy to get distracted at home,” the Chicago native said. “I’m trying to figure out ways to help my game. I’m getting stronger. I’m just trying to do what I can to get ready for the season and help this team.”
Abrams spends his free time at the Bielfeldt Administration Building, working a few hours a week in the development office for the Varsity I Association.
Last week he was working the phones calling former basketball players about a reunion on campus in September.
“I didn’t want to just be sitting around doing nothing, so I come in here for a few hours, do some work, make a little bit of bread, and then go back to working out,” he said.
Abrams, Illinois’ team MVP as a freshman in 2011-12, will continue to have naysayers. Fellow senior Ahmad Starks becomes eligible this season, and some are predicting the Oregon State transfer could command a good chunk of Abrams’ minutes or even take his spot in the starting lineup.
Add Seton Hall transfer Aaron Cosby to a backcourt that also features Kendrick Nunn, Rayvonte Rice and Jaylon Tate and the distribution of minutes could be a real issue.
“We’ve got a lot of guards, there’s no question about it, but I think it fits our system. It’s more positive than negative,” Abrams said. “We were the 12th-rated offensive team scoring in the league last year, so it’ll be great for us to add a guy like Ahmad, who can shoot the ball. It’s an advantage for our team adding Ahmad and Cos. Those guys make shots, and Ray and I are slashers. It’ll open up more for us.”
As far as what he’s worked on with his game during all those extra gym hours this summer, it’s simple for Abrams, who shot 33.3 percent from the floor and 27 percent from long range last season.
“Obviously, I have to shoot the ball better. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that,” he said.
The added competition within the team is welcomed by Abrams, who insists all he cares about is winning.
So if his minutes dip from 30 per game to 20 of 25 per game, is that going to be all right?
“Of course,” he said. “If that’s the case, I’m going to give you the best 25 minutes I’ve got.”