The tragedy of Tracy Abrams

By Alex Roux

It just isn’t fair.

It’s impossible to predict if
Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams would have been a key contributor for the
Illini this upcoming season. Missing the entire 2014-15 season of hoops while rehabbing
an ACL tear like Abrams will lead to that kind of uncertainty.

But until Tuesday, we at least
thought he’d have a chance to play.

That opportunity was snatched in
cruel fashion from Abrams early last week when he went down in practice with a
torn Achilles tendon. Just like when he tore his ACL during workouts last
September, the Achilles was a non-contact injury. A freak accident.

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    Abrams will miss the entire
    2015-16 season, and it’s a shame. He was set to be a redshirt senior, likely
    playing the role of John Groce’s starting point guard in a crucial season for
    the program. Abrams will certainly be missed on the court. Even if he never
    completely returned to form, his widely-praised leadership abilities will be
    absent during play for a second year in a row.

    But Abrams’ misfortune obviously extends
    far beyond the hardwood and the ramifications for Illinois basketball. It’s
    tough to watch a person go through what he’s gone through. Abrams has been
    universally lauded by teammates, coaches, reporters and friends as a person of
    great character, an extremely hard worker and a warrior. Both injuries were
    immediately followed by an outpouring of support on social media from fans and
    those in his inner circle.

    Can you imagine what Abrams is enduring right now? I can’t. I’ve never lost something so important,
    worked extremely hard to get it back, only to lose it again.

    I ran into Abrams very soon after
    his ACL injury last September in the stairwell of our apartment building. The elevator
    was broken, and he was forced to hobble up the stairs. I expressed my sympathy
    and he thanked me, but the look in his eyes was truly disheartening. He was
    crushed.

    Faced with a different but
    equally steep mountain of recovery ahead, Abrams’ future is cloudy. He could
    probably get a sixth year of eligibility for 2016-17, but as Groce pointed out
    Tuesday, it’s much too early to know if that’s the path Abrams will take.

    Returning as a capable basketball
    player after two consecutive devastating injuries and not a minute of actual
    game play in between would be an incredibly difficult task. But with Abrams’
    competitive nature, you’d have to think that he doesn’t want the final shot
    of his Illini career to be an air-balled three-pointer in an NIT loss at Clemson.

    In the meantime, Abrams’ contributions will come from the sidelines once again. 

    As a sophomore in 2013 in a Round
    of 32 NCAA tournament matchup against No. 2 seed Miami, Abrams drove the lane
    late in a tight game. With everything on the line, the 6-foot-2 guard did something
    he almost never does. He blew by his defender, rose up and dunked the ball.  

    I leapt out of my seat,
    legitimately shocked. After Abrams slammed it, I had no doubt that Illinois was
    going to win that game.

    Of course, the Illini went on to
    lose to Miami, and haven’t played in the NCAA tournament since. But I’ll never
    forget that dunk, and it will always be one of the most impressive Illinois
    basketball moments I’ve ever seen, considering the circumstances.

    Abrams isn’t a perfect player; no
    one is. He’s more of a two-guard who’s forced to play point, and sometimes
    draws the ire of fans for inconsistent play. But he has consistently brought
    toughness and leadership to the Illini, and he’ll be missed this year. It would be a
    sports tragedy if he never plays another game for Illinois.

    If you’re looking for a way to
    quantify what Abrams’ game is all about and the hole he’ll leave in the Illini
    lineup for the second straight year, look past the stats. Think of all the hard
    work he’s put in behind the scenes. Recall the praise that everyone who’s important has heaped on him. Remember that ridiculous dunk in
    crunch-time against Miami.

    That’s who Illinois
    basketball is missing out on.

    [email protected]

    @aroux94