H&R Executive Sports Editor

URBANA – As Brandon Paul was being recognized as the MVP of the Illini basketball team Saturday night, watching quietly from a table at the Holiday Inn was his younger brother, Darius.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Illini team banquet, Darius turned to his Twitter account and announced to the world that he would soon be slipping on an Illini uniform, too. His message:

“It’s a privilege to be put in this situation I’ve been put in…will be wearing orange & blue for the rest of my college career #Illini…”

Paul, a 6-8, 220-pound forward, was the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in his one season at Western Michigan. He will sit out the coming season and have three years of athletic eligibility remaining.

Paul’s stock soared after a strong season with the Bulldogs in which he averaged 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds a game.

Changes with the Western Michigan coaching staff and a desire to challenge himself at a higher level led to Paul’s decision to transfer. And since it became known he was looking for a new home, among the schools that expressed high interest were Florida, Missouri, Marquette, Iowa State, Miami (Fla.), Nevada and Nebraska.

A new Missouri assistant coach is Rick Carter, who had close ties to Paul while an assistant coach at Western Michigan.

Several times during the Illini team banquet, Brandon Paul made it clear he would endorse his brother’s move to Illinois.

The elder Paul, who is preparing for the upcoming NBA draft, did a comical impersonation of coach John Groce, then called the current collection of Illini coaches, “the greatest staff in the world.

“This year was amazing. It’s been the best four years of my life. I think the program is going in a great direction.”

Then, in touching on the coaching change that brought in Groce to replace Bruce Weber, Brandon Paul said, “This was definitely the best-case scenario. I wish the past coaches luck but this was better for everyone.”

Paul’s arrival is the fifth transfer Groce has picked up in a little over 13 months.

He grabbed Champaign native and former Drake player Rayvonte Rice, who sat out the 2012-13 season and will be eligible this year. Rice was one of three players Groce cited when sharing the “most improved” award at the team banquet.

He then got fifth-year player Sam McLaurin, who came from Coastal Carolina to complete his eligibility. McLaurin was lauded at the banquet for his defense and hustle and won the Matto Award for extra effort plays and shared Groce’s new “TNT Award” for positive play on the defensive end of the floor.

Groce recently accepted guard Aaron Cosby into the program. Cosby, who is transferring from Seton Hall, will sit out the coming season and have two years of eligibility remaining.

Then Groce welcomed another fifth-year player in former Illinois State forward Jon Ekey, who will be instantly eligible for the 2013-14 season only.

And now Darius Paul.

Is there a another transfer yet to come?

The mysterious no-show at Saturday’s team banquet was forward Myke Henry, who was only mentioned once by Groce and was lumped into a group with Mike Shaw, Ibby Djimde and Devin Langford, the latter three of which announced their intentions to transfer after the recent season ended.

The university did not respond to requests about Henry’s status. But if Henry departs, Groce could fill that spot with transfer Ahmad Starks, a point guard from Oregon State.

Starks, who played high school ball at Whitney Young in Chicago, is seeking an NCAA medical hardship waiver to move closer to his ailing grandmother, who he said was largely responsible for raising him. She reportedly is suffering from advanced dementia.

Starks would need to be academically accepted by the university and be approved for the NCAA waiver for him to fit into Illinois’ plans to add an experienced point guard to join returning Tracy Abrams and incoming freshman Jaylon Tate of Chicago Simeon at the position.

If Henry were to leave, Groce would have just three returning scholarship players from his first Illini team that won 23 games and nearly beat Miami for a trip to the Sweet 16.

Those three would be Abrams, Nnanna Egwu and Joseph Bertrand. Walkon Mike LaTulip also returns.

(12) comments

Tendonitis Tom
Tendonitis Tom

This site wouldn't let me on without subscribing for 4 or 5 weeks, then all of a sudden I'm good again. The blog page is also by far the longest to load of any web site I go to. Oh well. Still glad to have Tupper's blog.

Interesting how Groce is going about this. If we get Starks, he got a shooter (Ekey) and a PG for just next year, and we surely will need both. Then 2014 comes, when the 4 spot will be loaded with Colbert and Paul in their 2nd year and Finke in his 1st. And his top target for 2014, Cliff Alexander, wants to play the 4 as well.

As their HS is in our conference, I saw both Brandon and Darius Paul play in HS several times each. While BP was clearly B1G caliber, DP didn;t impress me as such. A nice player, but nowhere near the prospect his older brother was, or so I thought. Not a high flyer or speed demon, but he did have a pretty good shot. He must have developed nicely at WMU for Groce to want him. An unusual path -- playing one year at a mid and then transferring to the B1G time. But he got a year in with a lot of PT. Now he'll get a year off in which he can practice with teammates, hit weights, and get ahead in school. Then at age 20 or so will have 3 years in an Illini uniform. I think he'll be an upgrade at the 4 over Henry, if indeed Henry is going to leave.

Stay thirsty my friends.

Pistol Pete
Pistol Pete

Good points, T Tom. The 4 spot will be loaded for the Illini with Henry seemingly being recruited over by Groce. I applaud Groce for going after players in numerous ways to upgrade the team as quickly as possible.

Red in a blue state
Red in a blue state

Busy,busy, we are becoming transfer "U". Now Myke Henry speculation. No room for Starks unless somebody leaves right?
So there you go, everything seems to fall into place rather conveniently right now(I'd say no accident) making this an interesting off season. All this would make for two open scolarships to use after next season if I got all this right? That is if Henry leaves?
Cliff & Alexander ?? I used the " bird in the hand reference regarding Paul, now about those two in the bush!

Red in a blue state
Red in a blue state

Speculation becomes reality here lately. I don't know what all this means for the future but this Illini fan is enjoying the journey so far.


tom (and others) - when you get that msg telling you that you have to subscribe all you really need to do is click on your internet options and clear your cookies and temp internet files. close the browser and re-open and you'll be fine.

I have very mixed feelings about all this. the timing just feels wrong. seems like if henry was going to transfer of his own volition he would have done so when the other guys made their announcement. the longer you wait the more slots at other schools fill up. now if henry just decided he didn';t want to play the 4 spot anymore and he'd be better served elsewhere then fine. but coming AFTER we recruit ekey and now paul just makes it all look bad.

I really like groce and think he has done a great job getting his style players in here, but I don't want to have to defend the university to other swine like IU, etc about how we "crean" players too.

Pistol Pete
Pistol Pete

sugmeister - I don't think UI or Groce needs to be defended for trying to get the best possible players for the bball program. I'm sure Henry can stay if he wants to, but if he doesn't embrace the stiff competition at his position, it's probably best that he transfers. I think he was given more than ample PT this past season to show what he can do. He shined at times but faltered at others. I think if Henry transfers after these recent gets, it's more of a reflection of his intestinal fortitude than whatever Groce or the UI has done.


I agree with this..... but if we are getting starks as well - then SOMEbody had to go because we would be over the limit be 1 scholarship.

since henry has yet to say anything official, let's just say for the sake of argument that starks announces this afternoon that he has been granted a waiver to play at UI. and that he has been accepted academically. we can't take him unless a) he walks on or b) somebody leaves.

Pistol Pete
Pistol Pete

You're exactly right, sug, but I seriously doubt that Henry is being forced to leave. I'd bet it's his prerogative to stay or leave & Groce would figure out a way to help Starks be a walkon if Henry decides to stay & Starks gets his waiver, etc. I just can't see Groce telling Henry he's pulling his scholly.

Red in a blue state
Red in a blue state

I don't want to seem eager for Henry to move on, if not a starter he can fill a depth roll. It actually makes sense for him to stay on. He'll be a jr. has a year already under Groce and has seen decent playing time. But that may well be one of the reasons why he's mulling over a transfer. If Henry thinks he's a three a Groce says son you are a four there is a problem. From what I've seen Henry doesn't have the motor/skills for a three roll.
Then again I agree. I can't imagine Groce ecouraging Henry to leave either. Not a one of the new players coming in including the future transfers have spent a minute with Groce on the practice floor.
Suddenly the word transfer has become a big part of the lexicon of college B-ball. More players don't seem to care if they have to set out a year if the grass looks greener I guess.


Hello boys, Happy times are here again. Starks could provide some interesting twists for this team. Will he and Tate share time at the point ? Will he an Abrams, leaving only mop up minutes for Tate ? It could get interesting. Will Abrams move to an already crowded wing ? I like Tate a lot and hope he and Starks share time. Abrams is short for a wing, but with his heart, he plays much bigger. Next years team could be better than this because of depth alone and no Griffey or DJ going 1-12 from 3.

Red in a blue state
Red in a blue state

Nice to see you back on here DecIllini it's been a while. I'm enjoying the conversation on here a lot better than a couple years ago I must say.
I have to wonder if this transfer trend will put more pressure on high schoolers to commit sooner if they are leaning heavily towards a specific school like Illinois for example. No sooner than we have schollys open up a transfer is there in waiting it seems. Maybe Groce realizes high school recruiting is a big enough gamble that taking transfers is a better bet?


The Henry mystery continues. I am sure he is a nice guy but I never have been that impressed with him. He shot just under 32% from 3 point that tells me he shouldn't have been shooting that much from out there, and just 34.5% overall. As a freshman when I saw him play he looked confused most of the time. As a sophomore when he played he looked confused most of the time. I don't know what happened with this guy. Why couldn't he grasp what the coaches were teaching him? The one thing I did like about him was he had a knack for rebounding the ball. But if you can't shoot, or defend, or grasp what a coach is trying to get across to you maybe its time to move on.

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