Junior point guard Tracy Abrams is a very big reason that Illini basketball has held each of its first seven opponents to 63 points or fewer this season, something an Illini team hasn’t done since the 2006-07 season. Abrams, from Chicago's Mt. Carmel high school, is a gritty defender and tough leader, reminiscent of another Illini basketball player who manned the same position-- Chester Frazier.
UI is now 15-0 in November under head coach John Groce. Overall, the Illini basketball program has won their last 26 games in the month of November.
“Without Tracy Abrams we probably don’t get it done. He willed us to a win. He’s a big part of what we do,” Groce said after the last Illini basketball game, a very ugly home win over Low-Major IPFW.
They take on Georgia Tech in an important road contest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in a couple hours. Illinois are slight underdogs to slight favorites, depending on who you talk to.
Tracy Abrams embodies that familiar “coach on the floor” storyline that permeates throughout college basketball. It’s a trite but true saying.
“Tracy’s leadership, the way he’s vocal, his ability to come back after a tough call, it didn’t phase him, I'm so proud of the way he led," Groce said.
And Abrams gets it done in the media room much like he gets it done on the court. All players and coaches enter all media sessions with one goal in mind: don't become a story for anything you've said. Only become a story for what you did on the court. And that's pretty much how I approach writing about Abrams. He's such an important part of this Illini basketball team, and he's such a master of the boring-by-design soundbite.
Abrams is very well-rehearsed in answering every reporter's question, and saying nothing. And this is all by design. It shows Abrams' experience, knowledge and media savvy. At Big Ten Media Day I literally heard him say "one day/game at a time" three times in under 90 seconds. At the last Illini basketball press conference, he again offered that cliche of cliches, as well as "we just gotta stay focused," "improve everyday" and "working hard."
Again, this is a complement to him being a great ambassador for the Illini program. Sure, I'm saying his responses are vanilla, and very little to any of them will ever end up in any of my stories, but that's not an insult. I'm saying he's just doing what he's supposed to do. Quite well. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was the same way, but for Illini football. Like Tracy, he's articulate and only says the things that the University wants to him to say. It forces us as media to write more about what they do and much less about what they say.
Illini basketball currently has a 28 game non-conference game at Assembly Hall. Abrams, the 2011-12 team MVP, is a big part of that. Abrams was a consensus top-100 recruit before beginning his Illini basketball career. was a first-team All-State selection by the Chicago Sun-Times and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) and second-team All-State by the Associated Press (AP) He was rated the No. 58 by Rivals.com and No. 62 by Prep Stars.
“Performing like he’s prepared himself to perform. Toughness stuck out. He’s able to play harder longer, I joked that he lost half a person. Ray’s a tough dude. He’s a winner as well. Similar to Tracy in that way. Groce spent a huge portion of his last post-game press conference praising Abrams. For many reasons.
“Dude’s a winner,” Groce said.
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. He’s also an analyst for multiple news talk radio stations across the country; with regular weekly segments on NBC and Fox Sports Radio. Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and RSS Catch him Tuesdays talking Illini and Northwestern for KOZN 1620 The Zone, Fridays talking Chicago Bears for WAOR 95.7 The Fan
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