The 2013-14 season didn’t provide the results the Illinois Fighting Illini hoped for, with John Groce’s team landing in the Postseason NIT and finishing the year with a 20-15 record. Illinois will return all five starters from that team, led by guards Rayvonte Rice (15.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Tracy Abrams (10.7, 3.5, 3.2 apg), and one of the positives from last season was the amount of playing time their newcomers received.
Malcolm Hill (4.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg), Kendrick Nunn (6.2, 1.7) and Jaylon Tate (1.8, 1.9 apg) all played at least 12.2 minutes per game as freshmen, with Hill and Nunn moving into the starting lineup during Big Ten play. That experience will help Illinois as they look to return to the NCAA tournament, but there is a question to be answered: who will step up as the team’s third scoring option?
One player looking to work his way into the mix is redshirt junior guard Aaron Cosby, who sat out last season after transferring in from Seton Hall. In two seasons as a Pirate, Cosby averaged 9.8 points per game and he along with Ahmad Starks (formerly at Oregon State) give Illinois some additional experience on the perimeter.
In preparation for the upcoming season Cosby played on an all-star team put together by Sports Reach that visited China, and according to the Chicago Tribune it was a productive experience for Cosby. Cosby scored an average of 18.1 points per game during the trip (nine games), and the experience allowed him to experience the game competition that was missing during his year in residency.
“It was good to get back out there on the court and kind of shake the rust off,” Cosby told Shannon Ryan of the Tribune. “It felt really good to get that competitive drive back. I’d been doing drills or 4-5 minute scrimmages in practice (last year).”
Illinois returns a lot from last season but they’ll be without their third and fourth-leading scorers in Joseph Bertrand (8.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Jon Ekey (7.3, 4.8). Rice is a proven scorer and Abrams also averaged double figures last season, but others will need to step forward if the Fighting Illini are to improve on their 2013-14 performance. Cosby is one player capable of doing so, and the hope is that he can build on his spring trip to China.