The Fighting Illini got word from the NCAA that transfer guard Ahmad Starks will not be eligible to play and announced via a press release on Tuesday.
Fighting Illini senior guard Ahmad Starks (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young H.S.) will sit out the upcoming season after the NCAA Subcommittee for Legislative Relief denied a hardship waiver requested by the University of Illinois. Starks, who transferred from Oregon State after a three-year career with the Beavers, will have one year of eligibility remaining with the Illini in 2014-15.
"Following a lengthy process, we have received final word from the NCAA on Ahmad's status. We are all disappointed with the decision to deny the waiver and especially feel bad for Ahmad and his family," Illinois head coach John Groce said. "Ahmad had a compelling case, returning to his home state to be closer to an ailing grandmother who played an instrumental role in raising him. However, we now have to move forward. Ahmad will focus on preparing our team in practice while also making individual improvement, fueled by the goal of returning to the court in 2014-15."
The positive is of course that the addition of Starks to the 2014-15 roster adds depth to the Illini backcourt, as the Illini will also add Aaron Cosby and Quentin Snider into the mix at the guard position. Along with veterans like Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice, as well as Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Malcolm Hill who will be sophomores, which means a deep and talented backcourt. And, of course, the fact that the Illinois scout team is now littered with talented players that have had success at the mid and high major level in Starks, Cosby and Darius Paul.
The downside is much greater, however. Starks would have greatly helped the team in 2013-14, as a player with experience that could knock down shots from the perimeter. Illinois knew this was a possibility when Starks decided to move closer to home, but recent events led them to believe that the waiver would be approved. Now Illinois doesn't have an experienced shooter to step in and replace DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul, and will need bigger contributions from the 3 freshman guards.
However, the worst part of this is the fact that Illinois will soon be over-signed for 2014-15. With commitments Michael Finke, Quentin Snider and Leron Black all signing in November, and only 2 Seniors leaving in Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, that puts Illinois one over the limit even without 5-star forward Cliff Alexander, who is expected to sign somewhere in the spring, with Illinois rumored to be one of his top 2 or 3 schools. That means someone won't be back. There is always attrition, but rarely do you know about a year in advance. Looking forward, speculation will run rampant about which of the 14 players won't make the grade, won't make the cut, will decide to move on or perhaps something else comes into play.
Regardless, it was a cold splash of water on a program that has momentum on the recruiting trail and were hopeful that Starks could help Illinois keep that momentum on the court.