Tracy Abrams is expected to miss his second consecutive season after tearing the Achilles’ tendon in his left foot, Illinois announced on Tuesday.
Abrams, who missed the 2014-15 season after tearing his ACL, suffered the injury on Monday.
“Abrams went through so much the last 10 months fighting back from a torn ACL to return to the court this summer,” head coach John Groce said in a statement. “This is obviously a very difficult time for him right now, but I’ve said it before, Tracy has the heart of a champion and I now that he will handle this latest setback with the same resolve and courage in making a full recovery.”
Abrams averaged 10.7 points for the Illini in 2013-14. He was expected to be the starting point guard for Illinois this season.
Expecting to enter the 2014-15 season with three players who started every game last season (and two others who started 12 games), the Illinois basketball program announced Thursday that it will be without one of those experienced options for the entire campaign.
Senior guard Tracy Abrams, who started all 35 games and averaged 10.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest in 2013-14, will miss this upcoming season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. The plan for Abrams, who has yet to undergo surgery, is to have him redshirt this season and return for his final year of eligibility in 2015-16.
Given Abrams’ experience and production, this is a tough personnel loss for the Fighting Illini to absorb less than a month before the start of practice.
“Tracy worked hard in the offseason to put himself in great position heading into his senior year, so he’s obviously disappointed and we are for him as well,” Groce said in the release. “But Tracy personifies toughness; he has the heart of a champion and I know that he will only come back stronger from this experience when he returns to the court next year.
“In the meantime, he will continue to play a vital role for our program with his leadership.”
Without Abrams more will be asked of Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks, who sat out last season, at the point guard position. In three seasons at Oregon State, the Chicago native averaged 10.2 points and 2.2 assists per game. Starks is the better shooter of the two, but Illinois will lose something with regards to both distribution and defensive ability at the position with Abrams sidelined.
Two other players who have point guard experience at the college level are redshirt junior Aaron Cosby (3.0 apg as a sophomore at Seton Hall) and sophomore guard Jaylon Tate. Tate finished the 2013-14 campaign second on the team in assists (1.9 apg) despite playing just over 12 minutes per contest as a freshman.
Tracy Abrams picked a great day to have a big game for Illinois.
The junior point guard had a game-high 25 points as the No. 9 seed Fighting Illini knocked off No. 8 seed Indiana, 64-54, in Thursday’s opening contest of the Big Ten Tournament.
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The 25 points for Abrams, on 8-for-16 shooting, is a season-high for the junior from Chicago and its his first 20-point performance since knocking in 22 points in a December 21st win over Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game.
Junior guard Rayvonte Rice also added 13 points for the Illini while freshman guard Kendrick Nunn added 10. The Illinois defense also did a great job of forcing Indiana into 16 turnovers as the Fighting Illini defense continues to play very well down the stretch.
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John Groce’s ballclub won four of its final five games in the regular season and they’re a dangerous team in the Big Ten Tournament because of their ability to defend.
Indiana (17-15) has now lost three straight games and struggled to find consistent offense as sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell finished with a team-high 14 points on 3-for-12 shooting. Senior forward Will Sheehey (13 points) and freshman wing Troy Williams (11 points) also finished in double-figures for Indiana, but freshman forward Noah Vonleh struggled to find his rhythm on offense, going 3-for-9 from the field for nine points.
Illinois advances to face No. 1 seed Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday at 12:00 p.m.
Illinois played its second exhibition game on Sunday afternoon against Northwood (Mich.) and the Fighting Illini struggled in stretches, trailing 48-47 with 13:31 to go before taking control of the contest. The 21-7 run was enough to push Illinois to an 83-67 victory, with Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice scoring a team-high 16 points. In total five Illinois players scored in double figures, with three of the five being underclassmen.
Sophomore guard Mike LaTulip scored 14 points (3-for-5 3PT) and freshmen Jaylon Tate (three assists) and Malcolm Hill (seven rebounds and three assists) accounted for 11 and ten points respectively. Illinois won the contest without the services of junior guard Tracy Abrams, who was sidelined with a mild hamstring strain according to Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune.
As a sophomore Abrams averaged 10.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game for the Fighting Illini, and with the loss of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson the Chicago native will be asked to produce even more for John Groce’s team. And that production isn’t solely about the box score, as the loss of those seniors (including Tyler Griffey) means that more will be required of veterans such as Abrams and redshirt senior Joe Bertrand (ten points in Sunday’s win) in the leadership department as well.
Illinois opens regular season play on Friday night against Alabama State, and they’ll play their first five games at home before visiting UNLV on November 26.
Year one of John Groce’s tenure at Illinois saw a 23-win season and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. But that team was led by a couple of seniors with tremendous experience as Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were natural leaders on the floor on the wing.
One of the biggest questions Groce — and the Illini — will face in year two is who they will turn to as the new leaders on the floor with Paul and Richardson moving on.
Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker works with the guards and says that Tracy Abrams is emerging as a leader.
“I have such a high-character group of guys,” Walker said to the News-Gazette
. “I really have some good dudes. Tracy’s really trying to take charge as the leader of the program.”
While working with the wings, another Illinois assistant, Paris Parham, is raving about fifth-year senior Joe Bertrand — a guy recruited along with last year’s leaders Paul and Richardson in the class of 2009.
Now is it Bertrand’s turn to take charge? A passage in the story about his recovery from an injury to become a leader seems to make him a viable candidate as a team leader:
Another Illini who underwent offseason surgery is fifth-year senior Joseph Bertrand. The guard had surgery in early April to repair the labrum in his right shoulder and spent the summer rehabbing that injury. Parham, who works primarily with Bertrand and the other wing players, said Bertrand is back to full-go.
“Joe can do everything now,” he said. “He surprised us in his workout the other day without doing any conditioning all summer. He’s been playing some pickup games. He’s a competitor. He’s been in every day getting up extra shots.”
While he was sidelined this summer, Bertrand watched his teammates and helped acclimate the nine newcomers with the system and emerged as a leader. That’s something that has translated to the court since his return.
“He’s getting better and more vocal,” Parham said. “He’s realizing this is his last year. When you become a senior, you kind of step out of your body a little bit and do some different things.”
Abrams will return as an experienced junior point guard after starting 32 of 36 games as a sophomore last year. He averaged 10.6 points per game but he’ll need to improve his sub-40% field goal percentage (39.4%) and perimeter shot (27% three-point percentage) in order to be a more balanced scorer and weapon.
Bertrand was the team’s sixth man last season — fourth in scoring (7.3 points) and third in rebounds (4.1 rebounds) — and will be relied on to help carry more of the scoring burden.
Some other great parts in the story include the recruiting of Illinois assistant coaches Walker, Parham and Dustin Ford including a phenomenal phone passage from Parham.
“You can’t put the phone down, you just can’t,” Parham said in the story
. “My wife (Keisha) understands that; there’s always a third party in the bedroom — the phone. Sometimes I fall asleep with it in the bed. The other day it was under my pillow when I woke up. She’s all right with it; she really understands it all.”