With leading scorer Rayvonte Rice sidelined, Illinois will be short another guard for the time being. Wednesday evening the program announced that guard Aaron Cosby will be unavailable for the next 1-2 weeks after undergoing a laser procedure on his left eye to repair a retinal tear.
The injury was suffered during the first half of the Fighting Illini’s home loss to Indiana on Sunday, a game in which Cosby played 18 minutes and missed all five of his shots from the field.
Cosby, who is in his first season of eligibility at Illinois after beginning his college career at Seton Hall, is averaging 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game but he’s shooting less than 30 percent from the field on the season. With Cosby sidelined it’s likely that another transfer, guard Ahmad Starks, moves into the starting lineup for the time being.
Starks, who’s averaging 7.7 points and 3.0 assists per game, accounted for 19 points and six assists in 26 minutes off the bench in Sunday’s loss to Indiana.
1. Kyle Wiltjer (via Kentucky) and Byron Wesley (via USC), Gonzaga: Mark Few’s team still has questions to answer, mainly on the defensive end, but there’s no doubting that he’s added several transfers that make the Zags a top-10 caliber team. Wiltjer, the 2013 SEC Sixth Man of the Year, has had over a year to reshape his body. By the looks of last week’s viral video, his 3-point shot is still intact. Wesley, a graduate transfer who averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds per game in 2013-2014, gives the Bulldogs another weapon on the perimeter.
2. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State (via UNLV): The Mayor’s success with transfers in Ames is well-documented. Next in line could be fifth-year senior Bryce Dejean-Jones. Iowa State graduated a lot of its scoring pop, and Dejean-Jones can help in that department, although he doesn’t need to be the top scorer like he was last season at UNLV. Hoiberg will look for the 6-foot-6 newcomer to be a wing who creates his shot, not one who will force it, as Dejean-Jones shot selection has been a problem in the past.
3. Rodney Purvis, UConn (via N.C. State): The reigning national champions add a former McDonald’s All-American to its back court alongside Ryan Boatright. At 6-foot-4, Purvis will give the Huskies size on the perimeter; someone who is not only capable of getting to the rim, but also a reliable 3-point shooting, knocking down 38.5 percent of his threes at N.C. State.
4. Anthony Lee, Ohio State (via Temple): The graduate transfer was highly-sought after, but picked the Buckeyes, adding size, scoring and rebounding to their frontline. At Temple, he recorded 11 double-doubles en route to 13.6 points and and American Athletic Conference leading 8.6 boards per game.
5. Kedren Johnson, Memphis (via Vanderbilt): Memphis went from a back court of four seniors in 2013-2014 to a set of guards with zero Division I experience. That was until Johnson, the Vandy transfer, got a waiver to play immediately. In 2012-2013, the 6-foot-4 Johnson averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His experience on-the-ball should help the younger guards get adjust to the level of play.
6. Angel Rodriguez, Miami (via Kansas State): The Hurricanes new point guard took a year off to recover from a wrist injury and now is the key piece to a revamped perimeter for Miami, which includes fellow transfer Sheldon McClellan, four-star freshman JaQuan Newton and returners Deandre Burnett and Davon Reed. The former K-State floor general was second-team all-Big 12 in 2012-2013, averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game.
7. Trevor Lacey, N.C. State (via Alabama): T.J. Warren took his ACC Player of the Year honors and his 24.9 points per game to the NBA, leaving plenty of shots available for the the newcomer. The 6-foot-3 Lacey averaged 11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a sophomore.
8. Katin Reinhardt, USC (via UNLV): After taking the second-most shots on UNLV as a freshman in 2012-2013, Reinhardt headed back to the state of California in hopes of being more than just a shooter. Despite his desires to have the ball in his hands, his biggest asset to Andy Enfield is his ability to hit from the outside. The Trojans were a Pac-12 worst 29 percent from beyond the arc last season.
9. Justin Martin, SMU (via Xavier): The 6-foot-6 wing is eligible immediately after graduating from Xavier. He posted 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, knocking down 50 3-pointers. He has also played in two NCAA tournaments, a place the Mustangs are looking to get back to for the first time since 1993.
10. Matt Carlino, Marquette (viaBYU): Steve Wojciechowski adds the former BYU guard to a back court that includes senior Derrick Wilson, potential breakout star Deonte Burton and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson. Carlino will see time on and off the ball, and will provide Marquette with a knockdown shooter.
13 MORE IMPACT TRANSFERS
Angelo Chol, San Diego State (via Arizona): Steve Fisher has had success with transfers in the past, and this season it could be Chol, the former Arizona Wildcat, who could never crack the loaded frontline.
*Cody Doolin, UNLV (via San Francisco): Dave Rice added a steady point guard (averaged 5.6 assists per game in 2012-2013) to a team that lost its starting five. Has been granted a fifth year of eligibility, but still waiting on a waiver to be allowed to play this season, although he is expected to receive it.
Justin Edwards, Kansas State (via Maine): Top scorer in the American East at 16.7 points per game in 2012-2013 could end up being a double-digit scorer for the Wildcats.
Byrn Forbes, Michigan State (via Cleveland State): Forbes will help combat the lose of Keith Appling and Gary Harris, averaging 15.6 points per game (42 percent from three) last season in the Horizon League.
Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State (via LSU): Hickey hopes the change of scenery can help return to sophomore averages of 11.2 points, 3.4 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
Jabarie Hinds, UMass (via West Virginia): With Chaz Williams graduating, the West Virginia transfer will be inserted into a back court with returning starter Derrick Gordon and key reserve Trey Davis in what could end up being a three-guard set for the Minutemen.
Keith Hornsby, LSU (via UNC Asheville): Matched up with JuCo transfer Josh Gray in the back court, Hornsby gives the Tigers size at 6-foot-4 and a 3-point threat.
Stanton Kidd (via North Carolina Central) and Antawn Scott (via Grambling) Colorado State : Outside of San Diego State, the rest of the Mountain West is wide-open. The addition of Kidd and Scott can help the Rams separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Jermaine Lawrence, Manhattan (via Cincinnati): The former five-star recruit is a big addition to a Manhattan team looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.
Antoine Mason, Auburn (via Niagara): Only national player of the year Doug McDermott scored more points than Mason (25.6 ppg) last season, as the former Niagara standout joins fellow transfers K.C. Ross-Miller and Cinmeon Bowers this season for the Tigers.
Ahmad Starks, Illinois (via Oregon State): Senior guard Tracy Abrams tearing his ACL made the addition of Starks and Seton Hall shooter Aaron Cosby all the more important. Starks will be asked to run the offense this season in his first and only year with the Illini.
*TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma (via Houston): The 6-foot-8 forward is still waiting on a waiver to play this season. Would make the Sooners a real threat in the Big 12.
Transfer point guard will be key as Illinois looks to improve offensively
Last season Illinois struggled on the offensive end of the floor as they ranked 11th in the Big Ten in both field goal and three-point percentage, shooting 41.1% from the field and 31.7% from beyond the arc. The struggles to consistently make shots ultimately led the John Groce’s team winding up in the Postseason NIT, where they lost to Clemson in the second round by the final score of 50-49.
So while scoring in college basketball increased last season, due in part to rule changes that led to more attempted free throws, Illinois didn’t exactly reap the rewards as they averaged just 64.2 points per game. The Fighting Illinois scored 70 points or more in 11 of their 35 games last season, posting a record of 9-2 in those contests.
“We were a fun team to coach. Our effort was off the charts,” Groce said. “Having said that, not to demean our guys, but in my six years as head coach that was the worst shooting team and passing team I’ve ever coached.”
Despite losing Tracy Abrams for the entire season after he suffered a torn ACL, the expectation in Champaign is that Illinois will be a better offensive team in 2014-15. Leading scorer Rayvonte Rice returns for his final season, and fellow guards Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill now have a year of Division I experience under their belts.
Illinois also adds two transfers to the backcourt rotation, with former Seton Hall guard Aaron Cosby and former Oregon State guard Ahmad Starks now eligible after sitting out all of last season. Starks’ addition took on added importance when Abrams suffered his injury, as he’ll now be first in line to handle the point guard responsibilities. So in addition to adding his 39.5% shooting from three (2012-13 at Oregon State), Starks will also have to prove capable of setting his teammates up for quality looks of their own.
Starks believes he is up for the job and is grateful Abrams will be on the sideline lending his advice.
“Yeah, I’m definitely ready for this,” Starks said. “The most important thing is filling Tracy’s voice on the floor. He’s been a big-time vocal leader and I’m more of a lead-by-example player. But I’m taking on the vocal responsibilities.”
Starks averaged just 2.3 assists per game as a junior in 2012-13, and if Illinois is to reach its goal of getting back to the NCAA tournament they’re going to need him to be an even better distributor in 2014-15.