D.J. Richardson is the third leading scorer on the Illinois basketball team so far this season, averaging 11.2 points a game. He is shooting 47%, including an amazing 50% from three, and he is playing solid defense. Coach Bruce Weber laments the lack of publicity for his sophomore class.
"The whole sophomore class has kind of been out of sight, out of mind, out of print. So they haven't gotten much attention. Brandon (Paul) has been pretty good, and now D.J. has really stepped up."
Richardson was a starter last year, and he says the experience is paying big dividends now.
"I was comfortable last year. But you're gonna hit a couple freshman walls, so I had an up and down season. I think this year I'm way more comfortable. It's kind of hard to adjust to college ball from high school ball.
"There were games I missed a lot of shots, but I was still able to hold good defense. Now I'm more mature and don't let the missed shots get into my head. As long as we win the game, that's all I care about. Last year I would miss shots and kind of get frustrated."
He lost confidence in his ball handling early his freshman year when opponents stole the ball from him a couple times. But he has committed only 10 turnovers in the first nine games, a vast improvement he has earned through hard work.
"I've been doing a lot of ball handling drills, so I've improved a lot on ball handling."
Last year Richardson was known primarily for his three point shooting, but he is beginning to develop his midrange game and driving skills.
"The more you do it the easier it gets, and the more it takes pressure off my teammates. I can drive the lane and pass to Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis so they can get open jumpers and get Orange Krush excited.
"It's getting a lot more comfortable. I did it the whole summer working out. Coach always says, 'Get back to Peoria, get back to Peoria D.J., get back to Peoria Carver.' I'm just trying to do what I used to do back in the day. It makes my game more well-rounded."
Weber was concerned early about Richardson's lack of toughness, which surprised him since he was tough as nails in high school.
"I joke because I thought he would be this tough kid from Peoria, but I'm not sure his self-esteem is the best. I hope he can improve and get better at it as we go."
The 6'-3" guard has begun to achieve Matto play-hard points recently, so perhaps he's starting to show his toughness as well. With more success and experience comes more confdence, which allows him to play better and begin to show his leadership skills.
"I've been trying to take a leadership role on the defensive end, and also for the whole team. We've heard how we need a leader, and I've been trying to step in. There are other players who can play a leadership role also."
Richardson is excited about the prospects for the season, and the early record adds credibility to his long-term goals of winning championships. One reason is team chemistry, which he says is much improved over last year.
"We have very good chemistry because we hang together in our apartments, play cards and have a lot of fun. We go out to eat a lot. We have Chester (Frazier) here, he's kind of like another player. It's good to have him here too."
With improved chemistry comes the willingness to both give and receive suggestions from teammates. Even freshmen like Jereme Richmond can offer advice and be received graciously, as long as it is constructive and helps his teammates improve. Richardson is a true student of the game.
"Basketball to me is kind of like homework. You can always work on something extra, and you can always be good at something. If someone tells you something, you can listen and learn from it and get better at it.
"Like homework, we've got peer review. I might be right and think my paper is 100%, but when I see the peer review comments on my paper, then maybe what they say can help me."
Richardson loves the improved emphasis on defense and the transition game. He helped hold Gonzaga star Steven Gray far below his scoring average, and he fills passing lanes on the fast break. He is enjoying the process of winning.
"It's a lot of fun. We can look up at the score and see we're up by 30 points. That's something we've got to do this year, is out run the other team. We want to score as fast as we can and then get back on D. We're very capable of doing that."