Just like Sam Maniscalco and Sam McLaurin before him, Jon Ekey is the third guy to join the Illini roster as a graduate student, having completed his undergraduate career at Illinois State University. Unlike transfers like Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks, Ekey will not have to sit out a year.
This new rule came into effect a few years back (former coach Weber took advantage the first year he could with Maniscalco), and every subsequent year the Illini have cashed in with a graduate transfer. The only requirement is that the student needs to be enrolled in graduate school at the institution where they need to play, and I THINK that it has to be a curriculum that wasn’t available at their former school.
The great thing is that we get to nab a guy who already has four years of experience playing Division I basketball. Now, the problem is that playing at Bradley (Maniscalco), Coastal Carolina (McLaurin) and now ISU are not the same thing as playing in the Big Ten. It’s a completely different stage. So while Maniscalco and McLaurin were able to jump in and help out in terms of maturity, neither made a huge impact on the team.
Perhaps Ekey will be more of a standout, especially because the only current senior on the roster is Joseph Bertrand. This is a YOUNG team and Ekey is going to need to show these kids who is boss. Maniscalco had a lot on his shoulders as the first in this experiment, and he was also a point guard. There is significantly less pressure on the 6-7 forward Ekey. Also, we now know not to expect these guys to work miracles, so like the Sams before him he just needs to inject a little oomph into the team. Most eyes are going to be on the revered freshman class, which also eases the weight on Ekey.
At ISU, Ekey played in 33 games, including 18 starts. He averaged 6.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, one block and 22.9 minutes a game. Illinois assistant coach Paris Parham previously worked at Illinois State, which helped sway Ekey’s decision. He was also interested in playing with Coach Groce.
I expect Ekey to play immediately, specifically focusing on filling the void of McLaurin and Griffey from last year. As the elder statesman, I also expect Ekey will be a starter, at least in the beginning. And may remain there, unless someone is able to steal the spot from him.
See all four transfers in action: Darius Paul, Aaron Cosby, Jon Ekey and Ahmad Starks: