Game 1 Notes & Links: Illinois vs. Alabama State
Nov. 6, 2013
Series Notes vs. Alabama State
Illini in Season Openers
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
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
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
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.
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.
Ekey Adds Experience
Groce Lands Star Class in First Year
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
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.