“It was really, really slow,” he said of the healing process. “I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to move (the arm) again.”
Bertrand is another quiet player Groce is asking to take on a leadership role. And, after mostly providing a shot off the bench since he arrived at Illinois, he’ll be asked to provide more offense, too.
Abrams and Bertrand — as well as 6-foot-11 junior center Nnanna Egwu, who started 35 games last season, and transfers Rayvonte Rice, a Champaign native who transferred after averaging 16.5 points a game as a sophomore at Drake, and Jon Ekey — provide the bulk of the experience Illinois can draw on.
Beyond them, some of those five freshmen will have to play, Groce said. With a roster of just 11 players, there’s no choice. But so far none of them has nailed down a role.
“Our freshmen are inconsistent right now,” Groce said. “They know that.”
The team, the coach added, is so young that he’s had to change the way he organizes practices, slowing down the pace.
“I’ve put the brakes on,” the coach said. “There’s so many things I’ve whacked from the practice plans because we’re not ready for that. And that’s OK. ... Until guys know certain things, we’re not going to move on.”
Abrams said part of his responsibility will be to help those players better, one small step at a time.
“Are we getting better?” he asked rhetorically, sounding a little like a coach. “Are we getting better at one thing today?”