Tracy Abrams committed to the University Of Illinois at the beginning of his sophomore year at Chicago Mt. Carmel High School. He exploded on the scene with his dynamic play as a freshman in the state tournament, and he has continued to improve since then.
One of Abrams' gifts is an ability to find another gear when the pressure is greatest. He can transform his game when the outcome is on the line. He can literally take over a game with his quickness, athleticism, and court awareness.
He demonstrated this during the Illinois team camp competition in early June. Content to set up his teammates in early games that day, he became a different player against perennial power Chicago Simeon. He scored from all angles, pressured Simeon guards into mistakes, and helped set up his teammates for easy shots. He was brilliant in the upset victory.
"I knew it was big for our two schools, and I wanted us to win a couple big games over the summer," Abrams described later. "So I just wanted to come out and play real hard. It was a real personal game, so I had to go all out.
"I was really focused. I need to be focused like that all the time and not just that game. So I'll keep working at it."
Abrams is unique as a point guard, working to combine scoring with setting up his teammates. Most point guards are better at one than the other, and some feel he his more of a scoring point than a distributor. Knowing when to shoot and when to pass is an artform. Abrams will take awhile to figure it out, but he has as much potential to do both as any Illinois recruit since Deron Williams.
In addition, he is intelligent, conscious, and a hard worker who wants to improve. Joe Henricksen, editor of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, rates Abrams as the #1 player in Illinois for the class of 2011. He feels toughness and work ethic must be considered in these evaluations.
"Do they have a toughness, work hard and get after it? It's really refreshing when you see those kids that bring the whole package. Skills, talent, work ethic, all those things.
"I'm the only one who has Tracy Abrams #1 in the class of 2011, and that's precisely why. He brings a toughness, maturity, work ethic and intangibles the other guys have not shown me on a consistent basis.
"And he obviously has the raw ability. He's got blinding speed, tremendous athleticism for a 6'-0" point guard. He's has some things he needs to work on. He's got to tighten up his ball handling for example. Most players have to."
His three point shot is also a work in progress. Abrams includes that in his self-evaluation of things he needs to improve.
"My shooting and my ball handling, being consistent at all times. That's my main focus. I'm gonna be in the gym a lot working out."
Abrams was playing with the Derrick Rose All-Stars AAU team, but he has switched to the Mac Irvin Fire for the big July tournaments. Speaking after his debut at the Chicago Hoops Classic, he's optimistic his new team will have success.
"This was my first game with the Fire. I'm comfortable with these guys. I know how they play. My personality is to get my teammates involved."
The Fire is loaded with talent, perhaps too much to keep everyone satisfied. That is a point guard's job, and Abrams embraces the role.
"Yeah, there's a lot of guys. But you've got to look to see what's there, what's the best situation."
"Yeah, it feels good being with some top players. I get to see those guys, see how they play, just get a feel for how they are on the court."
Leonard also joined the Fire recently. The Chicago AAU tournament was Abrams' first chance to play with the Robinson native, and he came away impressed. Leonard runs the floor well, and Abrams hit him with several nice alley oops for dunks.
"This was the first chance I've gotten to get to know my future teammate as a player. He's real good. He's real athletic, and he's gonna catch the ball."
Abrams responds well to the pressure that comes with being part of a recruiting bonanza for Illinois. He knows much is expected of them, and he doesn't want to disappoint.
"There's a lot of expectations. People expect you to be great all the time. The main thing is to work hard all the time."