Starks better 'physically and mentally'

Starks better 'physically and mentally'

CHAMPAIGN — Since transferring to Illinois in the spring of 2013, you’ve hardly heard Ahmad Starks’ name without hearing Aaron Cosby’s name. Cosby, the transfer from Seton Hall, and Starks, the transfer from Oregon State, both sat out last season, and the guards are expected to greatly improve the perimeter shooting woes the Illini experienced during the 2013-14 season.

They have something else in common, too. Both enjoyed intercontinental trips this offseason.

Cosby traveled to China in May with a select team of college players for a basketball tour. Starks went to northern Europe during some of his downtime to visit Charlie Barton, one of his former teammates at Oregon State and a native of Goteborg, Sweden.

The old friends caught up and hung out. They played some hoops, too.

“He knows some of the professional guys over there. His dad coached over there, so we played with some guys he knows out there,” Starks said. “It was a fun experience.”

It wasn’t Starks’ first trip to Europe. He has been to Paris, Barcelona and around Italy.

“It’s different. The culture is definitely different. It’s got a whole different feel to it,” Starks said. “The places I’ve been have been really chill, laid-back. It’s definitely great to have that experience and to see what life is like. So many of us over there feel like we’re the only thing going on, but it’s cool to see different cultures and learn some different things about the rest of the world.”

The goal for most college basketball players is to have an opportunity for a career in the NBA. The odds for that aren’t great, and Starks is aware of that. However, should he get an opportunity to play overseas at the end of this season with the Illini, he’ll be prepared for life abroad.

“If I get that opportunity, I’ll be excited for it,” he said.

Before that, though, Starks’ goal is to help the Illini return to the NCAA tournament.

Oregon State’s all-time leader in three-pointers didn’t play nine games on a foreign tour to shake off the rust like Cosby did, but he got one competitive game under his belt earlier this month in Chicago, playing in a Chicago pro-am game at Whitney Young, his alma mater. Jabari Parker and former Illini Demetri McCamey were among those who participated in the game.

The 5-foot-9 Starks played on a team with his former Mac Irvin Fire AAU teammates.

“It was great. I hadn’t played a game in a year and a half. It was a great feeling,” Starks said. “I had to remember some of the rules like the shot clock and all that. It was fun to experience that again and to get some competition beyond just playing with our guys here.”

The plan for Starks when he transferred to Illinois was to play immediately and help the Illini on the court last season. The NCAA denied his hardship waiver, so he had to wait until this coming season to exhaust his eligibility. The year off has been beneficial for his game.

“I’ve definitely gotten better physically and mentally,” he said. “Knowing the system, knowing the guys and having a year under your belt just being around and being in practice, I’ve gotten stronger, and that’s all going to help me have a good year.”

Illinois fans can expect a quick guard who can score and make plays for others.

“I know the game; I’ve studied it,” he said. “We’ve got a tough task in front of us. We’re trying to do something good here, so we’re just working every day.”