Men's Basketball
Game 1 Notes & Links: Illinois vs. Alabama State

Rayvonte Rice averaged 14.5 points on nearly 53 percent shooting (10-19) during Illinois' two preseason exhibition games.
Rayvonte Rice averaged 14.5 points on nearly 53 percent shooting (10-19) during Illinois' two preseason exhibition games.

Nov. 6, 2013

 Game 1: Illinois (0-0) vs. Alabama State (0-0)
 When Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 | 7 p.m. CT
 Location Champaign, Ill. | State Farm Center (16,618) | Fan Guide | Parking Map
 Tickets Friday Frenzy Pack (3 games for $15) | Single-game Tickets | Seating Chart
 Promotions Orange Hush | Basketball Promotions
 Television None
 Watch Online (Wayne Randazzo, PBP & Sean Harrington, Analyst)
 Radio Illini Sports Network | Listen (All-Access)
 Live Stats Gametracker | Mobile Stats
 Printable Game Notes Illinois | Alabama State
 2012-13 Stats Illinois | Alabama State | Big Ten
 Social Media @IlliniHoops   |  #Illini | @IlliniAthletics | Facebook | YouTube

 Illinois Possible Starters (from previous game with 2012-13 stats)
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. PPG RPG APG Note
G 1 Jaylon Tate 6-3 160 Fr. - - -  
G 25 Kendrick Nunn 6-3 180 Fr. - - -  
G 2 Joseph Bertrand 6-6 200 r-Sr. 7.3 4.1 0.6 50.2 FG% in 2012-13
F 33 Jon Ekey 6-7 225 Gr. 6.4 4.2 0.9 5th year transfer from Illinois State
F/C 32 Nnanna Egwu 6-11 250 Jr. 6.5 4.9 0.5 1.4 blocks/game in 2012-13
 Off the Bench
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. PPG RPG APG Note
G 3 Ahmad Starks 5-9 170 Sr. 10.4 2.0 2.3 Transfer must sit out 2013-14 season
G 10 Mike LaTulip 6-1 170 So. 1.2 0.1 0.0 Walk-on had 19 pts in 38 mins in 2012-13
G 11 Aaron Cosby 6-3 195 Jr. 12.6 2.5 3.0 Transfer must sit out 2013-14 season.
G 13 Tracy Abrams 6-2 190 Jr. 10.6 3.5 3.4 1.4 steals per game in 2012-13
G 21 Malcolm Hill 6-6 210 Fr. - - -  
C 22 Maverick Morgan 610 250 Fr. - - -  
G 24 Rayvonte Rice 6-4 235 r-Jr. 16.8 5.8 1.6 Sat out 2012-13 as trasfer from Drake
F 31 Austin Colbert 6-9 210 Fr. - - -  
F 35 Darius Paul 6-8 220 So. 10.4 5.7 1.7 Transfer must sit out 2013-14 season

Coaching Staff
Head Coach: John Groce
Career Record: 108-69/.610 (5th year)
At Illinois: 23-13/.639 (2nd year)
Assistant Coaches: Dustin Ford (2nd year), Paris Parham (2nd year), Jamall Walker (2nd year)
Special Assistant to the Head Coach: Ryad Pedon (1st year)

Series Notes vs. Alabama State
Series Record: First meeting
Groce vs. Alabama State: First meeting

Illini in Season Openers
Illinois opens its 109th season of men's basketball on Friday. The Fighting Illini have posted an all-time record of 95-13 (.880) in season openers and have won their last 14 season openers, an active streak that began during the 1999-2000 season.

Illinois, meanwhile, is 93-15 (.861) in home openers. The Illini are 43-7 (.860) in home openers at the State Farm Center and have won their last 14 home openers, another streak that began during the 1999-2000 campaign.

Return of the Orange Hush
To recognize Coach Groce's inaugural game at Illinois, the Orange Krush student section organized "Orange Hush" for last season's home opener vs. Colgate. As a tribute to Groce's alma mater, Taylor University, Krush and Illini fans replicated Taylor's famous tradition of "Silent Night," where at one designated game each season, the entire gym remains silent from tip-off until the Trojans score their 10th point. When that point is scored, the crowd then erupts into a wild celebration.

Following the success of last year's Orange Hush, Krush has decided to make this an annual event for Groce and the Illini, continuing the tradition at each year's home opener. Therefore, Krush asks all fans to refrain from cheering or clapping until the Illini score their 10th point Friday night against Alabama State. Once that happens, fans should immediately fill State Farm Center with applause.

Last Time Out: Exhibition Play
Illinois was victorious in two exhibition game tune-ups in preparation for the season, defeating McKendree, 101-66 on Oct. 24 and Northwood (Mich.), 83-67, on Nov. 3.

Four different Illini scored in double figures against McKendree, led by a game-high 16 points from Tracy Abrams. All 11 available UI players scored during the contest, as the Orange and Blue shot 55 percent on the night. Rayvonte Rice and Jaylon Tate had 13 points each, while Jon Ekey added 12 on 5-of-7 shooting. Joseph Bertrand, meanwhile, posted game highs of eight rebounds and three blocked shots.

The Illini then had five double-figure scorers against Northwood, led by Rayvonte Rice's 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Mike LaTulip scored 14 and hit three 3-pointers, matching Rice's production from behind the arc. Jaylon Tate added 11 while Joseph Bertrand and Malcolm Hill had 10 each.

New Look Illini
With an influx of nine new players, the 2013-14 Fighting Illini roster is dramatically different than the one Head Coach John Groce inherited a year ago. Illinois welcomes five freshmen and four transfers to a group of five returning players; four of whom have previously taken the court wearing the Orange and Blue.

The Illini lost their top two scorers from last year's squad in Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, and are without five of the top eight scorers overall. In fact, Illinois returns just 36.1 percent of its points, 36.7 percent of its rebounds and 38.4 percent of its minutes played from the 2012-13 campaign.

But while there are many new faces in the locker room, Groce's second Illini squad also includes key veterans whose experience will lead the way into the 2013-14 season.

Returning for the Orange and Blue
Illinois has three players who logged heavy minutes in last year's rotation in returning starters Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu along with Joseph Bertrand.

Abrams showed rapid improvement as a sophomore, increasing his scoring average by more than six points to rank third on the team in scoring with an average of 10.6 points per game. Abrams scored in double figures 22 times, led by a career-high 27-point outing against Auburn at the United Center to earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors. In addition to his improved scoring, Abrams also led the Illini in assists (3.4 apg) and steals (1.4 spg), ranking among Big Ten leaders in both categories.

Like Abrams, Egwu also made major strides during his sophomore season. Starting all but one game, Egwu averaged 6.5 points and led the Illini in rebounding with an average of 4.9 boards. He also ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 49 blocked shots. Egwu recorded his first career double-double in his last appearance, totaling 12 points and a career-high 12 rebounds against Miami in the NCAA Tournament. Egwu spent the summer bulking up, adding nearly 20 pounds to his frame.

One of just two seniors on the squad suiting up this season - and the only one who has spent his entire career with the Illini - Bertrand brings athleticism and a wealth of experience to the roster. He ranked fourth on the team in scoring (7.3 ppg) and third in rebounding (4.1 rpg) while shooting better than 50 percent on the season.

Walk-on Mike LaTulip made impressive strides in the offseason both in the weight room and with conditioning. Known for his shooting, LaTulip also could be looked upon to provide depth at the point guard.

Reinvented Rice
Illinois' fifth returning player is junior Rayvonte Rice, who sat out last season after transferring from Drake. Rice dedicated his efforts to transforming his body and the results have been staggering. John Groce called Rice's improvement the best "sit-out" year of any player he has coached and awarded him with the team's Most Improved Player award at last year's banquet (shared with Abrams and Egwu). Rice amassed nearly 1,000 points in his two seasons at Drake and will provide scoring ability and versatility in the UI lineup.

Ekey Adds Experience
For the third straight season, the Illini will benefit from the addition of a graduate transfer. Fifth-year senior Jon Ekey is eligible immediately after graduating from Illinois State in May. Ekey is a stretch-four in the mold similar to former Illini Tyler Griffey. Ekey started 75 of 99 games at ISU, averaging 6.7 points over his career. He also is a career 36.5 percent shooter from 3-point range.

Groce Lands Star Class in First Year
It didn't take John Groce long to make his mark on the recruiting trail. Just months into the job, Groce and his staff signed a five-player recruiting class ranked among the top 25 nationally by scouting services. The talented freshman class of guards Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill and Jaylon Tate, forward Austin Colbert and center Maverick Morgan are the foundation for Groce's recruiting at Illinois.

Nunn is a top-75 recruit who helped lead Chicago Simeon to four straight state titles. An exceptional athlete, he averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds as a senior, earning All-State honors. Nunn also has experience at the international level, winning gold medals with USA Basketball at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in 2011 and the FIBA U17 Wold Championship in 2012.

Hill also is a top-75 recruit who put up incredible numbers at Belleville East. He averaged 25.3 points as a senior and is East's all-time leading scorer with 2,067 career points. Hill was a consensus all-state selection and finished third in voting for Illinois Mr. Basketball. He has the ability to score in various ways from different spots on the court.

Tate teamed up with Nunn on Simeon's state championship teams each of the last two seasons. The floor leader led Simeon in assists with an average of 7.3 per game while also contributing 8.3 points per contest. Tate is a true point guard known for his competitiveness and ability to create for teammates.

While the three freshmen on the perimeter all hail from the state of Illinois, the staff went east to sign their frontcourt. Colbert is a top-100 recruit who averaged 12.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks at Gill St. Bernard's in New Jersey. Standing 6-9 and with a long wing span, Colbert is an athletic, versatile forward.

Morgan averaged 24.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks as a senior at Springboro High School, just outside of Dayton, Ohio. He was named Ohio's Division I Player of the Year by the Ohio Basketball Coaches Association. The 6-10, 250-pound Morgan already has a solid frame and will provide a physical presence and depth in the post.

Trio of Transfers Await their Time
Waiting in the wings are three players who are sitting out this season due to transfer rules. Illinois has bolstered its depth and ability at a number of positions with the additions of Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul.

Starks played the last three seasons at Oregon State. He was a career double-figure scorer (10.2 ppg) and left as the Beavers all-time leader in 3-point field goals with 185. Illinois petitioned the NCAA to grant Starks immediate eligibility, but his hardship waiver was denied. Starks will have one season remaining next year.

Cosby was a two-year starter at Seton Hall, and like Starks, a career-double figure scorer. Cosby averaged 10.1 points for the Pirates and drained 132 three-pointers while shooting nearly 39 percent from behind the arc. Cosby will have two seasons of eligibility left beginning next year.

The younger brother of former UI star Brandon Paul, Darius Paul had an excellent first season at Western Michigan, earning Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year honors after averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds. Paul will have three seasons to play with the Illini starting next year.