Starks Took the Most Unselfish Shot

Ahmad Starks hopes his grandmother can see him play one more time.

CHAMPAIGN – Ahmad Starks admits he's struggled while coming to terms with the NCAA's decision to keep him off the court this season.

He'll be able to shoot treys and help guide the offense next year after sitting out and will use the coming months to improve as much as possible for his final season of eligibility.

Yet he hopes his grandmother can watch him play one more time.

"Family time is the best for her as her memory is fading away," Starks said of his grandmother Mazola Robinson, who is battling Alzheimer's and dementia. "The more I see her the more she remembers certain things about me. Sometimes it's tough not having her remember my name. That kills me. I've cried about that. It's tough for me to do that, but the more she sees me she's been able to call me by my name."

That's why Starks is at Illinois. That's what keeps the Chicago product positive despite not being able to play. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound guard was a career double figure scorer (10.2 points per game) and the all-time leader in 3-pointers made (185) in three seasons at Oregon State. With one year left and his ailing grandmother nearly 90, the former Whitney Young High star wanted to go home.

"I wanted to play and be sure that she could see me play in my final year," he said. "I'm just wishing the best for her health."

He decided to transfer and apply for a hardship waiver that if granted would circumvent normal transfer restrictions. Starks was denied because his home is more than 100 miles from Champaign (off by roughly 40). Recently the integrity and consistency of some transfer cases involving hardship waivers has been called into question.

While others were granted immediate playing time, Starks must sit.

"I am disappointed with the consistencies or depending how you look at it the inconsistencies with some of these cases," Coach John Groce said. "Again, that's out of my hands. We said from day one we were going to do our part and what the NCAA asked us to do. I felt like we did that and now we've got to move on."

For Starks, that means practicing and working out without the reward of playing in games. It means his grandmother can't watch him play in the near future.

Starks said she became an integral figure when he was 5-years-old. His parents, Donzell and Alisa Starks, started a business and spent long nights working or travelling away from home. Robinson stepped in to help.

"We're talking like a parent," Starks said. "She lived in the same house, picked me up from school every day, took care of me. She hand-and-hand raised me with my parents. She means the world to me."

So when Robinson's health declined, Starks viewed Illinois and the hardship waiver as the perfect solution. Groce welcomed him to Illinois this offseason and was excited to add him to the roster. The team needed a scoring guard, and he was expected to start. While the details of the situation weren't exactly in line with every rule associated with the waiver, many felt the case was compelling enough to be ruled in Starks' favor.

Then word came from the NCAA. It was no. And an appeal in September went the same way.

Starks would have to wait until the 2014-15 season to finish his career.

"It's really tough because you never want to see anything happen like that when a guy has hopes of playing," said junior Aaron Cosby, who also must sit after transferring from Seton Hall. "He definitely would have helped this year's team but he's in the same position I am now. He's got a chance to get better and push these guys in practice."

Starks says he has accepted his role. He'll work to get better individually while playing on the scout team to prepare his teammates for game situations. He'll also visit home as much as possible.

"It's crazy-tough," he said. "It hits me in my mind all the time. It's tough. I'm still fortunate to be close enough to home to see my grandmother. I still pray and hope that she can see me play a final time in my college career."

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