One of Illinois coach John Groce's biggest, or at least most interesting, challenges next season will be how he goes about replacing Brandon Paul. The senior guard had an up and down career, to be sure, and while his senior season was no different (Paul started as hot as any player in the country but finished the year having made just 32.5 percent of his 240 3s), he will be difficult to replace in a variety of ways, namely in the sheer number of possessions and shots he took for his team while on the floor. Paul wasn't always on, but when he was, he was as good as anyone in the country at creating his own shot.
Luckily enough, Groce found a long-term replacement in Paul's own family. On Saturday, Darius Paul, Brandon's younger brother, announced he would transfer from Western Michigan to play for the Illini:
It's a privilege to be put in this situation I've been put in..will be wearing orange & blue for the rest of my college career #Illini
— Darius Paul (@D_Raw35) May 5, 2013
On Sunday, ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers reported that the decision came about because of a "coaching staff change" at Western Michigan and "the desire to play at a higher level, according to his mother." But the bond Groce formed early in his tenure with his embattled senior -- which was evident as early as media day, and paid clear dividends throughout the season -- surely played a large role in the younger brother's decision to choose Illinois over a raft of quality offers, including those from Florida, Iowa State, Marquette, Miami (Fla.), Missouri, Nebraska and Nevada. On Saturday, Darius Paul watched his older brother accept Illinois' Most Outstanding Player award at the team's athletics banquet, which just so happened to coincide with his official visit to the school. Good timing.
Anyway, the younger Paul won't really replace the elder. For one, he's a big man, not a guard; for another, he'll have to sit out a year before resuming his final three years of eligibility. But he is a really promising player. Darius Paul averaged 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds and won the MAC Freshman of the Year award in 2012-13, with a particularly impressive offensive rebounding rate (12.8 percent) and some solid interior scoring (and 51 percent from 2) in just his first year. Darius Paul may not have garnered the same recruiting hype as his brother coming out of high school, and he may not be the same kind of player. But it's not a stretch to think he can make a similar-sized impact as Brandon -- and maybe, one day, leave Illinois the better player. Either way, nice get by Groce.