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It won’t be easy for transfer Ahmad Starks to make an impact in crowded Illinois backcourt

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Ahmad Starks (Getty Images)

Three months ago, Ahmad Starks fell out of the starting lineup despite playing for a team that finished tied for last in the Pac-12.

Today the Oregon State transfer is headed to his dream school.

Starks, a 5-foot-9 guard from Chicago, announced Thursday he will transfer to childhood favorite Illinois, further proof of how quickly fortunes can change in college basketball. He has one year of eligibility remaining and could potentially play for the Illini as soon as next season if the NCAA deems his desire to be closer to his ailing grandma sufficient cause for a hardship waiver.

How much Starks can actually help Illinois is debatable because he was often exasperating at Oregon State.

Starks shot a career high 39.5 percent from behind the arc as a junior, but he struggled to finish at the rim as he has his whole career because of his size, sinking just 38 percent of his two-point attempts. He was especially ineffective over Oregon State's final eight games when he made just 12 of 47 shots.

Erratic shooting wouldn't be such an issue for Starks if he made up for it in other facets of his game, but his ability to score is his best asset. His size often makes him a liability on defense and he has a tendency to call his own number a lot for a point guard, a trait that led him to produce three or less assists in all but six games last season.

In reality, it may not be easy for Starks to crack the starting lineup in a crowded Illinois backcourt that features plenty of talent despite the graduation of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson.

Promising junior-to-be Tracy Abrams is the incumbent starting point guard and the Illini will also feature returner Joseph Bertrand, talented Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice and standout recruits Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill. Starks told the Chicago Tribune he expects Illinois to often play with three guards, but unless coach John Groce plans to play him and Abrams at the same time, the Oregon State transfer's role could be to serve as a shooter, secondary ball handler and scoring spark off the bench.

Why would Groce take Starks when Illinois doesn't have a real need for him besides his outside shooting? One theory is that his presence could benefit future Illini recruiting in Chicago.

Starks won a Class 4A state championship for Chicago powerhouse Whitney Young in 2009 and led the Dolphins to a runner-up finish in 2010. Perhaps his presence in Champaign could be an asset to the Illini as they pursue Whitney Young standouts Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, the former Rivals.com's No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2014 and the latter a 6-foot-8 forward ranked in the top 50.

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