The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Sports

October 10, 2013

Young Illini search for identity

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Looking around the practice gym Wednesday, point guard Tracy Abrams said he doesn’t yet know what kind of team Illinois will be once the college basketball season begins next month.

“There’s no identity right now,” the junior said of a roster that includes five freshmen and two transfers who haven’t yet played for the Illini.

Abrams will have a major say in shaping that identity.

Abrams is one of just four players back from last season’s 23-13 team, the only one with any serious experience playing the point in college and, according to second-year coach John Groce, one of the key leaders on a very young team.

Abrams has started 51 games in his two seasons at Illinois, but he has not been vocal.

“Ya’ll know I’m pretty quiet,” Abrams told reporters. “Humble about myself.”

Groce thinks he can be something more.

“I think now he’s starting to get it,” Groce said, explaining that Abrams is working to create team chemistry on the court and off, hanging out with new teammates and veterans, trying to pull them together. A year ago, “he wasn’t thinking about that.”

A year ago, Abrams was part of a team that opened with three senior starters and a graduate student who sometimes started, too.

That team made a surprise trip to the NCAA Tournament, riding the sometimes scorching shooting of Brandon Paul, one of those seniors who moved on, as far as it would take them. With the Nov. 8 opener against Alabama State less than a month away, expectations are probably not that high this season.

Along with Abrams, fifth-year senior Joseph Bertrand of Sterling, Ill., will likely be one key piece. He says he’s fully recovered from a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required off-season surgery.

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