Article Continues Below
Illinois announced that redshirt senior guard Tracy Abrams will miss the entire 2015-16 college basketball season due to a torn left Achilles tendon suffered in Monday's practice. Abrams missed all of last season because of a torn ACL and was in his first week of full contact before his latest injury.
This will prove to be a massive blow for the Illini, losing a veteran leader and the heart and soul of Illinois basketball the past few seasons. In what figures to be an important year for Groce and Illinois basketball, the Illini's depth chart is incredibly thin at the most important position in basketball. Losing an established, veteran point guard two seasons in a row is an extremely tough pill for Groce to swallow.
The head coach is taking an optimistic approach, but is also fully aware of the impact of losing a player of Abrams' caliber.
"He's hurting right now," Groce said. "He's invested so much in his time here and this team and this comeback. My number one concern, by far, is his (Abrams) mindset and his health."
Groce's second concern? Settling on Abrams' replacement as the focus shifts to the starting point guard role. Although there is no replacing Abrams and the void the Illini now face, Groce is confident they will have options.
"Well obviously we're going to exercise all options at this point, but it's pretty fresh right now, within 24 hours," Groce said. "We've had different guys certainly on our mind. The great thing for us is we get these foreign trip practices including our two hours we're allowed by the NCAA. We'll be able to experiment a little bit."
All signs would point to Groce handing the ball to junior Jaylon Tate. Another option to help Tate with the burden of the point guard duties is to give Kendrick Nunn an opportunity to do some handling. There is not one single player that will fill this void, but rather multiple players that may be able to contribute. Whatever he decides, it will be a collective effort in replacing Abrams' production.
"We're going to figure it out," Groce said. "We'll get to all the scenarios moving forward."
I'm not sure freshmen can fill the void. Jalen Coleman-Lands, the most likely candidate, is a guy who's skill set limits him to being a shooter at this point, and not a playmaker. He's probably not ready as a true freshman to take on that kind of burden, especially in the system that Groce runs. Will they look at it as an option? Maybe. But I don't necessarily see him as a guy who can take on the missing point guard minutes.
There has been much debate over Abrams' career on exactly what he brings to the Illini. Whether it is his point guard skills that remain questioned or his playmaking abilities, he is a player that has been pigeon holed. "Is he a point guard? Is he an off guard? Is he a starter?" Fair? That is what should be up for debate. Tracy is like a lot of players in college basketball -- and sports in general -- in the sense that we've all focused on what he doesn't do well rather than what he does do well.
Whatever the case may be, forget the veteran leadership, selflessness, and the uncanny ability to make plays in big moments when needed the most. And forget -- for a second -- all of the Tracy Abrams criticisms. One aspect Illini fans never had to question was his heart, his character, and his passion for the game. If there is any debate about what Abrams truly means to his team and this basketball program, sit back and find out.
There is one thing we can all agree on. The heart and passion of Tracy Abrams will be sorely missed.
I feel for Tracy, having gone through season ending injuries at both Bradley and Illinois. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
After having to battle through ten months of rigorous, dedicated rehab only to find out you're going to miss a second consecutive season, simply sucks. Pardon my French but there aren't many other words for it. Missing one season is bad. I can't even imagine missing back-to-back seasons like he will have to do.
I have played with and against a lot of players in my career. There isn't another guy I would want to have on my team than Abrams. I am sure I am not the only one of his teammates that feels this way, as he would be a popular pick among many guys. There is no doubt that he will dedicate himself again and come back a stronger, better player.