Cosby prepares for upcoming Illini season with tour in China

From the Big East to the Far East, Aaron Cosby knows how to score the basketball.   

The 6-foot-3 combo guard averaged 12.6 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting as a sophomore at Seton Hall before transferring to Illinois following the 2012-13 season. He then went more than a year without playing in an organized game after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

So when Sports Reach, a Kentucky-based Christian Organization, offered him the chance to play a nine-game tour in China against foreign professional teams, Cosby accepted.

He didn’t forget how to score during his year off.

Cosby averaged 18.1 points over the course of nine games against assorted professional teams from Lithuania and China. The games were played against international teams largely made up of older, more experienced players. Cosby’s team, Reach USA, consisted of American college players and was thrown together quickly, leaving them little time to practice. With few plays to run and little time to get acclimated as a team, Cosby’s coach gave him the green light.

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    “Coach gave me the freedom,” Cosby said. “They (opponents) were trying to score at a high pace, and we were just trying to keep up with them.”

    The run-and-gun style of basketball led to high point totals, as well as a high number of shots taken by Cosby over the course of the tour. He hoisted 72 three-pointers, connecting on 34.7 percent of them. Overall, Cosby attempted an eye-popping average of 17.2 shots per game at a 34.8 percent clip. Following the trip, he admitted that his shooting percentage wasn’t quite where he wanted it to be due to his extended time away from organized basketball.

    “I didn’t shoot my normal percentage because I wasn’t in shape,” he said.

    The tour helped Cosby ease his way back into game shape without the pressure that comes with a normal college basketball game. Of course the Reach USA team was playing to win, but the trip was more about getting the college players valuable game experience against tough competition before their seasons begin in the fall. Reach USA finished with four wins and five losses.

    It was Cosby’s first time in China, and the difference in culture wasn’t the only thing he and his teammates had to acclimate to during the trip. The international-style basketball used in the games was slightly larger than a regulation NCAA ball. The referees also allowed more contact around the rim than Cosby was used to. That’s saying something, considering he played two seasons in the physical Big East conference.

    Most importantly, the three-point line in international play is 15 inches farther from the rim than the NCAA line. The games were also played with a 24-second shot clock, which is 11 seconds shorter than the NCAA clock. These factors, not to mention jet lag, put Cosby and his teammates at a disadvantage the minute they stepped on Chinese soil.

    But Cosby was pleased with his performance and the overall experience, on and off the court. A photo posted to the Illinois Basketball Twitter page showed him posing at the Great Wall of China. The Sports Reach organization also volunteers, helping out in local communities where they play. Cosby enjoyed those extra experiences, but his main objective was to use the trip to help him become a more complete player when the Illini open the season in November.

    Cosby considers himself a good three-point shooter, but he’s focused on becoming a more dynamic player offensively. He’s been working on shooting off the dribble and being able to effectively finish in the lane and at the rim.

    “I’m just working on being able to score in different ways offensively,” Cosby said.

    He also worked at improving his defense during his year off and on his trip to China. John Groce’s teams have taken on a defensive mentality in his tenure at Illinois, as evidenced by a streak of holding four straight Big Ten opponents under 50 points last season. In order to fit in seamlessly with the rotation, Cosby is making his defense a priority.

    But ultimately it’s Cosby’s shooting that fills a major need for the Illini next season. Without a consistent threat from long range last year, opposing teams clogged the lane, making it difficult for the Illini to attack the basket. The result? Illinois was ranked No. 311 out of 351 Division I teams in scoring last season.

    A viable three-point shooter like Cosby has the potential to spread the floor, making it easier for his teammates to attack the basket. When asked about his potential impact on the floor next season, Cosby has an offensive vision for himself and the 2014-15 Illini.

    “I’ll be a threat to make shots from all over the floor,” he said. “That will kind of open things up for everybody.”

    Alex is a junior in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @aroux94.