When Spears came to Illinois he was a big man that many schools had offered scholarships. His suitors were Illinois, Iowa, UConn, Louisville and Oregon, so Spears must have done something right during his high school career to get a list with schools like that. During his high school career Spears averaged 26 ppg and 12 rebounds and was named first team All-State by the Chicago Sun Times.
So what happened at Illinois? Why didn't he succeed? The major setback was the 2002-2003 season when he played the first six games of the season as a true freshman before an injury that many feel he didn't fully recover from (a torn lateral meniscus in the left knee). Spears would eventually have arthroscopic surgery and applied for a medical redshirt - which was granted. But you could tell at times it appeared to bother him in games by the way he ran. But that didn't stop the big man from working hard every day in practice trying to get time on the court and prove he was worthy of that scholarship.
The average fan thinks because these athletes play on TV and get full-ride scholarships that their lives are great, forgetting they are human like everyone else. They have family members to worry about just like you and I. As coach Weber mentioned in his press release statement from the U of I earlier in the week, "Aaron had a troubled year." There are so many things that go on in a young man's life today that most of us would run from. In my dealings with Spears, I can tell you this: he's a loyal and kind kid that had some bad things go against him. Aaron's mother Bonnie Spears is sure her son will be fine, because she will see to it.
When Spears verbaled to Illinois, I was very excited because he was a 6-9 kid from Chicago that could do some great things in the physical Big Ten; but that never happened for the kid. Now he's moving on to get a fresh start in school, basketball, and life. I hope he can take this new opportunity and make the most of it.
With Spears leaving, it opens up another scholarship for Bruce Weber. The program was told on Tuesday night that Indiana native Luke Zeller decided to play for Notre Dame. Now the Illini must go look for another quality big man. The problem is there aren't too many out there. The cupboard is not bare in Champaign - so don't panic. Big man Shaun Pruitt will be there along with junior David Palmer, Warren Carter and James Augustine.
According to the Insiders.com these are the big men that list the Illini:
Bryce Webster, 6-10 sophomore, from Minnesota
Julian Wright, 6-8 junior, of Illinois
Kevin Rogers, 6-8, of Dallas, Texas
Lawrence Hill, 6-8, of Arizona
Jordan Wilkes, 6-11, of Los Angeles, CA
Theo Davis, 6-10, of Cardozo Bayside, NY who assistant coach Jay Price recently visited this week