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Illinois faces stiff test against Miami’s Shane Larkin

Shane Larkhad 10 points nine assists 29 minutes Friday against Pacific. | Ronald Martinez~Getty Images

Shane Larkin had 10 points and nine assists in 29 minutes Friday against Pacific. | Ronald Martinez~Getty Images

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Updated: April 25, 2013 7:21AM

AUSTIN, Texas — When asked if he wished Shane Larkin had stayed at DePaul, John Groce just chuckled.

‘‘He’s really good,’’ Groce said Saturday in Illinois’ locker room. ‘‘He’s really similar to Trey Burke in that he has the ability to put up big numbers scoring and the ability to make guys around him better. He’s kind of the head of the snake. And they have great players around him.’’

When the seventh-seeded Illini try to avoid a snakebite Sunday against Larkin and No. 2 Miami, though, Illini Nation probably will be wishing the standout sophomore point guard had stuck to his commitment to Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell.

The son of Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, Shane showed on Friday why ACC coaches made him the league’s player of the year. Despite playing a season-low 29 minutes, Larkin had 10 points and nine assists in Miami’s 78-49 blowout of Pacific.

Life is filled with change. First, Jim Larranaga, who had developed a close relationship with Larkin on the recruiting trail, moved from overachieving George Mason to glamorous Miami.

Then Larkin’s situation changed. After committing to Purnell, who originally had been recruiting him to Clemson, and living briefly in Chicago, Larkin decided in August 2011 that he needed to be closer to his family’s Orlando, Fla., home.

‘‘Unfortunately, something happened with a family member, and I needed to be closer to home,’’ Larkin said. ‘‘I felt bad making that decision to transfer. It was just something I had to do.’’

Larkin, who follows in his father’s humble and classy footsteps, answered potentially awkward questions thoughtfully and clearly.

‘‘It was probably the hardest decision I had to make in my life, going back on my word,’’ Larkin said. ‘‘I committed to them. I signed a letter of intent. I had nothing but good intentions about going up there and trying to turn around the DePaul program.’’

Larkin’s uncle Byron, who scored 2,696 points at Xavier from 1984 to ’88 and is still one of the top 25 all-time Division I scorers, told that Shane’s obsessive-compulsive disorder flared up while he was in Chicago.

‘‘He was OCD,’’ Byron said. ‘‘He was a hand-washer. We’d found that out when he was young, and he went to a therapist, and it got taken care of. When he was in an urban environment [in Chicago], it resurfaced. So he was able to get a medical release from DePaul.’’

Cynics might wonder, but the evidence suggests this was a case of a young man who had genuine personal reasons for making a change.

‘‘People say [DePaul] would have been in the tournament if I’d been up there,’’ Larkin said. ‘‘I don’t know. They have great players up there. The Big East is just a tough conference. Coach Purnell has [turned around] Old Dominion and Clemson. People just have to be patient.’’

Purnell’s task obviously would have been easier with Larkin, who added that he simply prefers basketball to baseball.

‘‘I’m not trying to get out of my dad’s shadow,’’ Shane said. ‘‘Basketball is just more fun to me. Baseball was boring. I didn’t enjoy it.’’

Although only 5-11, Larkin has a bright NBA future.

‘‘He’s not big, but size is overrated in this game,’’ said Illini guard Tracy Abrams, who played against Larkin at summer camps. ‘‘It’s whether a guy’s productive. He’s a good player. He’s tough, and he’s smart.’’

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