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.

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