Mar 4, 2014; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce at the post game press conference after being defeated by Michigan Wolverines 84-53 at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Darius Paul Situation And The Open Scholarship

“After a thorough review of Darius’ year, which included multiple transgressions, I am suspending Darius from all team-related activities for the entire 2014-15 season,” Groce said in a statement. “As head coach, my concerns are always what is best for the University of Illinois, what is best for the men’s basketball program, and what is best for our student-athletes as people. I feel this penalty is necessary to help Darius as a person. We will continue to support him through this process.” -JFG

That is all that was said in regards to Darius Paul, the transfer forward from Western Michigan who was going to give the Illini some much needed depth this upcoming basketball season.  Darius Paul, the younger brother of former Illini Brandon Paul, was expected to compete for a starting spot, and was figuring to see at worst a lion’s share of time off the bench.

Groce sends a clear message with this move, which our own Ryan Kraemer wrote about here.  I will not assume, nor speculate, what else had taken place in regards to Paul and any transgressions.  As a result of his season long suspension, a scholarship has now been opened up, and Coach Groce has a couple options he can do with it.

For starters, Coach Groce could choose to give the scholarship to Mike LaTulip.

As a walk on, Groce could tell him he is going on scholarship for the 2014-2015 season.  This would do a couple things for the program, such as make it a more desirable place for walk-ons, and would also create great chemistry in the locker room, showing that John Groce takes care of his own.

Creating that type of environment, where more preferred walk-ons want to come to Champaign, can help a program in a sense that you can get a good player to help in practices as well as off the bench and it doesn’t count against your scholarships that you may be saving for higher tier athletes.

Another option is to go out and look for another transfer, presumably a fifth year starter that would be eligible to play immediately.  This would keep the depth in the same neighborhood that the team was expecting it to be for the upcoming campaign.

If Groce was to do this, one possible target is Darius Leonard, a forward from Campbell who would have one year of eligibility remaining.  Averaging over 10 points per game and just under five boards, he could be a nice stop gap player.  This would address the 5 spot that could use some depth, while creating immediate, one year value.

The last option for Groce, and the option that is the least likely, is that he sits on the scholarship.  This could be for two reasons.  IF Darius Paul were to return next season, the scholarship would be waiting for him.  IF he chooses not to return, we would have another scholarship for next season to be able to play with.

This is the least likely because, as John Groce has said many times before, he can count and I feel like he prefers a full roster.

This news came as a shock to the Illini loyal, but it may have been the best possible move.  If you recall the issues in the past this program has seen, i.e. Jereme Richmond & Jamar Smith, there was clearly a desire to avoid any sort of situations that could not only bring shame to the program and school, but also to ensure that these men were acting like men.

Some see the move that John Groce made as harsh, but from the sounds of it, the situation regarding underage drinking and running from the cops was not an isolated incident.  I said before I would not speculate as to what else transpired, if anything, but it sure looks like something else is going on.

If Darius decided to work on himself as a person and come back next year, I am certain the staff and fans would welcome him back with open arms.  However, if he decided that what is best for him is exploring his options as another university, whether that is JUCO or D-II, the writers of this site and fan base will undoubtedly wish him nothing but the best.

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Tags: Darius Leonard Darius Paul Illinois Fighting Illini John Groce Mike LaTulip

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