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Ekey To Illinois April 16, 2013

Eighteen days ago, Ibby Djimde, Mike Shaw, and Devin Langford all announced that they were transferring out of the program in search of playing time, leaving us with three open scholarships for the 2013/14 season. Eighteen days later, we’re down to one open scholarship.

Friday night, Seton Hall sophomore Aaron Cosby picked Illinois as his transfer destination. Last night, Illinois State fifth year senior Jon Ekey announced he was going to play his final season at Illinois. As a sophomore, Cosby will have to sit out next season and then will have two seasons remaining. As a fifth year transfer, Ekey will be eligible to play immediately.

The best part about a fifth-year like Ekey – it doesn’t change our recruiting at all. Cosby takes away one scholarship that could have been used on a 2014 kid (not that I’m complaining, Cosby’s numbers at Seton Hall suggest he’ll be better than any 2014 guard we could bring in not named JaQuon Lyle). Ekey takes up a vacant scholarship next year… and then we can still use it on a 2014 kid (like Lyle!). In that sense, there is absolutely zero risk here. Even if he plays seven minutes the entire season and scores one single point, that’s still better than an open scholarship for the season.

And he fits a need, too. Ekey is a 6′-7″ forward in the Tyler Griffey stretch four mold. He’s not a banger, he won’t show you many post moves, but he will set a high screen and then pop for the three. And he had other suitors, too. According to Marcus Jackson, he was contacted by Purdue, Creighton, Ga. Tech, Boston College and Nevada (among others) after he received his release from Illinois State. That’s decent company to beat for his one year.

But I can also give you a personal account. I’ve watched Ekey play twice. Once was what we all remember him from – our game against Illinois State in the Cancun tournament in November of 2011, and the other was the MVC Tournament final I attended in March of 2012. He scored 14 points in the Cancun game (three of six from long range), grabbed six boards, and blocked three shots. And that was a game we almost lost. We were up two, and ISU shot a three pointer with two seconds left but missed. We grabbed the rebound with a second left, were fouled, and won the game 63-59.

Ekey played a better game in the MVC tournament final I attended. Tim Jankovic used him exactly like Groce used Griffey – high screens and three pointers. In fact, that’s the only shots he attempted in that MVC Final – he was four for six from three with three more blocks. As I remember the game – a heartbreaking overtime loss to Creighton that kept ISU from gaining that elusive tournament bid – Ekey didn’t really stick out on the defensive end but aggravated the Creighton fans in front of me when he kept hitting threes.

Now, I know where your thoughts go. It’s generally one of these two things:

“We brought in Marcus Arnold from ISU, and he never matched his MVC production in the B1G.”

and/or

“We brought in Sam Maniscalco as a 5th-year transfer from the MVC – and he never matched his MVC production in the B1G.”

So no, I don’t expect 14 points and a bunch of threes from Ekey every time out next year. Not even close. His numbers all fell off last year at ISU (new system under Dan Muller was less pick-y and pop-y), so expecting him to step in and maybe seamlessly replace Griffey is a bit ridiculous. It will be a big adjustment for him in switching to the Big Ten – it will be a big adjustment for Rayvonte Rice, too, but he arrives with much better MVC numbers – so expecting a lot is probably foolish.

But I think I’ve settled here: If Cosby were Ekey and Ekey were Cosby, I’d be a bit concerned. An MVC kid who might struggle to adjust taking up a scholarship for three years and a Big East kid who can score that will only be here for one. But switch them, and I’m happy. Cosby is the “he’ll have to step in and seamlessly replaced Bertrand in 2014, and he probably has the scoring prowess to do just that and more”, and Ekey is “we’ll need to bring the freshmen bigs like Colbert and Morgan along slowly, because all freshmen bigs come along slowly, and Ekey gives us the opportunity to do that by backing up Henry at the four for a year.”

Another way to look at it. Here’s the tradeoff we’ve made:

Three more years of Devin Langford traded for two years of Aaron Cosby.
Two more years of Mike Shaw traded for one year of Jon Ekey and an open 2014 scholarship.
Two more years of Ibby Djimde traded for an open 2014 scholarship.

Add another 5th year transfer alongside Ekey (for the Djimde spot), maybe, say, a five that can back up Egwu, and suddenly next year looks a lot different. Instead of having to rely completely on the freshmen to fill every bench role, there are some experienced options that give the freshmen a chance to get their feet wet. Hmmm… let’s pause and look at that:

PG: Abrams, backed up by Tate
SG: Rice, backed up by Nunn
WG: Bertrand, backed up by Hill
F: Henry, backed up by Ekey
C: Egwu, backed up by Morgan/Colbert

And then that entire team returns for 2014/15, only subbing in Cosby for Bertrand (and maybe adding a few impact freshmen).

So yes, adding Ekey is a good thing. More than likely, he’s only our 6th or 7th leading scorer, so it’s not like we added Kenny Battle last night. But he gives us experienced minutes off the bench, gives our freshmen time to ease their way in, and maybe even hits a few Jack Ingram-like dagger three pointers. He also shot .821 from the free throw line last season, so having a guy like that late in games is always a plus.

Welcome, Jon. You made the right choice. Having a grad degree from Illinois is never a bad thing. And hitting a few threes against Missouri isn’t either.

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One Comments
Illinigrad April 17th, 2013

Robert, Having a grad degree from Illinois is pure gold.