Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.
Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.
Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).
In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.
Wednesday evening Illinois head coach John Groce and his staff landed their first verbal commitment in the Class of 2016, as 6-foot point guard Te’Jon Lucas announced that he’ll play his college basketball in the Big Ten. The Milwaukee native, who was also considering Old Dominion and USC, plays a position where the Fighting Illini were in need of depth for the future.
With grad student Khalid Lewis (from La Salle) and junior Jaylon Tate both being upperclassmen, Illinois needed a young option to groom with the future in mind. Illinois also has fifth-year senior Tracy Abrams, who will miss another season after rupturing his Achilles earlier this summer.
With the uncertainty that comes with Abrams having suffered serious injuries in each of the last two years (torn ACL sidelined him for the 2014-15 season), and the question of whether or not he’d spend a sixth season in college, adding a point guard in this class was important for Illinois. And in Lucas, the Fighting Illini have a player who improved throughout the summer.
“Te’Jon Lucas was a breakout player this summer in the national camp and grassroots setting as he demonstrated a strong ability to play off of high ball screens,” NBCSports.com recruiting insider Scott Phillips said. “A high-IQ floor leader with some craftiness to his game, Lucas showed he could play against great competition this summer.”
Lucas, who attends Washington HS and played his grassroots basketball for the Milwaukee Spartans program, took an official visit to Illinois last weekend (he took trips to USC and ODU in the two weekends prior).
Video credit: Midwest Ballers
Darius Paul was dismissed from the Illinois program on Friday night, following his second suspension.
“After further review of the situation, Darius has been dismissed from our team,” Illinois head coach John Groce said in a statement. “Although his playing days here are over, we are committed to helping him move forward.”
Paul, who never appeared in a single game for the Fighting Illini was suspended indefinitely following an arrest for vandalism, public intoxication, resisting arrest during the team’s tour of France.
The 6-foot-8 forward is the younger brother of former Illinois star guard Brandon Paul. Darius began his college career at Western Michigan, where he was named the 2013 MAC Freshman of the Year, averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He transferred to Illinois and after sitting out the 2013-14 season, per NCAA transfer rules, he was suspended for the entire 2014-15 season. Paul would spend the past season in the junior college ranks at Lamar State College-Port Arthur (Texas) before rejoining the Illinois program.
Illinois opens the season on Nov. 13 against North Florida.