In late April, MAC Freshman of the Year and arguably Western Michigan’s top returning player, Darius Paul, informed the coaching staff he was transferring out of the program. This came as a shock to head coach Steve Hawkins as Paul, the younger brother of former Illinois star Brandon Paul, averaged 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds and looked to be the focal point of the program for the remainder of his career.
Paul’s mother, Lynda, told MLive.com on April 24th that her son has a “desire to play at a higher level,” and that there were four schools in the state of Illinois that had reached out to him. She continued to say:
“We’re pretty astute basketball people here – we’re not going to let him go somewhere where it would be a situation where it’s not better than the Western Michigan basketball situation. That would be crazy; that would be absolutely crazy.”
In a tweet Darius sent out late Saturday night, he made it known that the University of Illinois was one of these four schools and is where he will be spending his next four years. Per NCAA rules, he will out during the 2013-14 season, but become eligible for the next three seasons beginning in 2014-15.
Western Michigan went 22-13 last season and lost to George Mason in the semifinals of the CBI. The 22 wins was the most since 2003-04 when the Broncos won 25 games en route to a #11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the team’s success, Paul ostensibly had a desire to take his game to a higher level and in a better conference. Prior to his commitment to Western Michigan in October of 2011, he boasted offers from several high-profile programs such as Florida, Marquette, Miami (FL), and Missouri among others. Over the weekend, he attended Brandon’s postseason banquet at Illinois while on an official visit to the school.
Paul is the fifth player to transfer to Illinois during John Groce’s short time in Champaign. Since the end of this season, he is the third transfer Illinois has received as Illinois State junior forward Jon Ekey and Seton Hall sophomore guard Aaron Crosby also elected to play for the Illini.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.