D.J. Richardson had a good rookie season, being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. But he wants to play even better, and he has been working hard to prepare. For instance, he was sensational in the mile run recently running 5:05, which is believed to be an Illinois basketball record.
"Yeah, I got over to the opposite side of the track and the coach said it was about 4:30, so I sprinted half a track in 35 seconds. I never did track in high school, I just always played around when I was little. I was always doing run-around games, so I always stayed in good shape."
That may be true, but Richardson has worked hard in the off season to prepare.
"I think it had something to do with the summertime. I spent the whole summer with a basketball in my hand. After the season I didn't take no time off. I stayed with it, so I think that's helped me out as well."
The mile time came after two days of strenuous workouts. Will he try to break the five minute barrier next time?
"I'll try. I've got to be to the point where my body just feels kind of great. That was on a Sunday, and we had workouts the day before and conditioning the day before that. It was a good experience. It was just all toughness."
Richardson is ambitious and sets high goals.
"I want to be the best player on the team this year; that has been my goal. So I've been doing a lot of shooting and ball handling, and working on people with the ball. I've seen a lot of improvement.
"A lot of people have been telling me I've got to get back to the old D.J. I think last year I settled a lot for threes, and people have been telling me to get back to the slashing D.J., get and-one's, get to the free throw line D.J. That's the person I've been trying to get my game back to, and try to be versatile for next season."
Richardson lost confidence in his ball handling early his freshman year when strong, quick guards disrupted his dribbling. It was a wakeup call.
"I think in high school I had more confidence than I did last year with ball handling. When I got here I lost a lot of confidence in my ball handling. I just kind of fell back into being a role player.
"There's nothing wrong with being a role player. I talked to Dee Brown about it, and Dee Brown told me about being a role player. Be a star at your role, and you'll be a star. That's what I'll try to live up to."
Still, he wanted to improve a weakness. He found an effective way to do that.
"It kind of helped going up to Chicago this summer. When I wasn't here I was in Chicago working out with Tim Grover and his guys up at Attack (Athletics). I got to go against Gilbert Arenas and a couple other NBA guys. Before the draft I was up there with Wesley Johnson and other guys that I did a lot of ball handling stuff with. Try to improve to get better."
His confidence soared with the experience.
"Yeah it helped me out a lot, especially with Gilbert Arenas, one of the top players and scorers in the NBA. That kind of gave me confidence. I talked to Wesley Johnson a lot, and I talked to my former teammate Avery Bradley. He gave me some tips on the game as well.
"I think I can be a ball handler and help Demetri (McCamey) out this year. We have a lot of other versatile guys that can be out there, but I've been working on my future career as well. So I'll just try to get out there and do better."
Everyone expects Illini seniors Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis, Bill Cole and McCamey to lead the team. They have the experience and are determined to go out on a high note. But redshirt freshman Joseph Bertrand, a sophomore academically, and sophomores Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey and Richardson are all improved.
"Within the sophomores, we've got a real good chemistry. The whole team this year has a great chemistry, and the sophomores on this team have a great chemistry together.
"Everybody I see out here is improved. Joseph has a 45 inch vertical, so we've got to get him up and down the floor. He's gonna be a highlight reel for us this year. He's gonna have to run some point, so he's improved a lot. We'll see a lot out of him this season.
"Brandon's body is really developing into more of a man. Tyler has been shooting the lights out of the ball. He really understands the game and has been working on all his weaknesses. So I think our sophomore class will be pretty good this year. We'll have a good strong chance to do something."
Richardson is also complimentary of freshmen Crandall Head, Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard. Head and Richardson are a good match for each other in one-on-one matchups as both play energetic defense.
"Crandall's playing pretty tough. Coach Weber told him what he expects of him this season, and he's trying to live up to it. He's giving us energy, playing defense and handling the ball. That's his goal, kind of what mine was last year. That will be a big key for us. He's gonna be pretty good.
"Jereme's like a do-it-all guy. He can play one through the four. Coach (Bruce) Weber said he could play one through five, but Jereme said he couldn't play the five. He's a very good kid, very talented. He's one of the toughest kids I've seen around the midrange game. His midrange game is serious.
"Meyers is gonna go out there and get a rebound for you, he's gonna block out. He's gonna be good for us when he gets 100% healthy."
Richardson is a basketball player, but he sounds more like a cheerleader or publicist for the team. He is sincerely excited about the coming season.
"We're really excited about the season. I think the best thing about this team over last year is that everybody wants to get better. Last year there were too many guys that weren't into the system and were complaining about playing time. But we've got everybody ready.
"It's the first time in 30 years you've got everybody making the mile run. So that kind of shows you everybody is ready to win. We're gonna live up to the rankings and the hype this year."