Jereme Richmond Excites Illini Fandom

The Fighting Illini basketball team enjoyed a big win over Michigan State at the Assembly Hall Tuesday. A prominent factor in the win was Illini bench play provided by Brandon Paul with 20 points and freshman Jereme Richmond with 14 points and 5 rebounds. After sitting out the previous game, the Illini are glad to see Richmond back in action.

Jereme Richmond was a McDonald's All-American out of Waukegan High School. Some predicted he would be a one-and-done college player before departing for the NBA. Whether it was the high expectations or something else, Richmond had a recent setback that necessitated him going home for a couple days. He explains what happened.

"There wasn't really much to it. I just had to go home and touch base with my family for a short period of time. My teammates and coaches did a good job of supporting me. I wanted to come back with a better focus and bring something to the table. I believe I'm doing it."

Richmond was making progress in understanding the complexities of the college game. He got his first start at Iowa, but he strained his Achilles tendon and returned to part-time action. Since he was seemingly healthy again, Weber was mystified by the need for time off.

"I thought he was really starting to make a move. That's why I put him in the lineup as a starter. Iowa I thought was his best game. And then, I'm not sure what exactly, but some things got in his head. We had to deal with it, and now hopefully we can move forward on an upward path.

"I thought he had his best practice a week ago Sunday. He was starting to let loose. Deron Williams talked to him, and he said, 'I know you're a player, but you can't be a robot on the court.' I think a lot of that is he's thinking, learning. It's not easy."

Richmond rejoined the team for the Wisconsin game but was not permitted to play after missing two important practices. He returned for the Michigan State game and played well.

"I thought tonight he was a lot more aggressive, and he wasn't a robot," Weber summarized. "He's starting to do that in practice. That's why last week was disappointing to me. I really thought he was making strides. But everyone goes through ups and downs. We've got to help him through it. He had a great game today. We hope this will be a real nice positive for him."

Despite his obvious skills, Richmond was guaranteed nothing by Weber.

"The whole time, I had told him I'm not gonna give him anything. I'm gonna make him earn it. He had to show he would work in school, take care of business with that. He had to earn the trust of his teammates and the coaching staff. And he had to prove he was a player.

"I'm not sure he really understood that or wanted that. Everyone wants things given to him. I told him around Christmas time, you have earned it now. You should be proud of it, I didn't just give it to you.

"Hopefully he's through his thing because we can use him. He gives us a lot of versatility. He can rebound in traffic too, which really helps."

Expectations often do young players more harm than good, especially if they believe the hype. In Richmond's case, he had adjustments to make for the college game. Joe Henricksen, author of the City/Suburban Hoops Report and long-time observer of Richmond's development, spoke recently on WDWS radio about the dilemma.

"I know a lot of people were expecting certain things from Jereme Richmond. When I was asked what I thought he would do this year, I thought 8-10 points a game, 5-6 rebounds a game, a block a game. I didn't anticipate a freshman-of-the-year type of season.

"He's kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place with where he is as a player. He is at his best around the basket, yet he's not physically developed. He has unbelievable footwork, unbelievable instincts around the rim, and that's where he fluorishes. But he's gonna be a perimeter guy down the road, especially if he wants to play in the NBA. There is where he has to make some strides.

"His shot has been a little bit flatter than I would like, and he hasn't a very high consistency from the perimeter. But with most freshmen, I expect the second half of the season being the more impactful part of the season. I know Brandon Paul was the opposite last season where he really had a great first half and then kind of regressed the second half."

"I think Jereme will definitely become a bigger factor going forward in the Big 10. He's about what I thought he would be doing. I know a lot of people wouldn't say that. They maybe had higher expectations, a bigger contribution and bigger numbers.

"From where he was and the type of level he was coming from in terms of position, being a three, being a four, there was gonna be an adjustment period for him. I thought he'd play a few more minutes than he has played, but the coaching staff has its reasons and there are seniors on board there. I think his minutes, before he had the little leg thing, had increased a little."

It is difficult for any freshman to adapt immediately to the college game. Weber points out the problems Richmond is having to overcome.

"I think he's made progress. He hasn't let loose. Part of that is it's hard. You have to play every possession. You have to be accountable. You make a nice dunk, but then you've got to run back and guard a guy. If you don't and he hits a three, then you've just lost three to two.

"I think that's the thing he's finding out. It's just going through that experience. Once that starts clicking, he's fine.

"The thing he has the most problems with is when he is guarding somebody without the ball, and he's playing without the ball. He just doesn't have a good comfort zone yet of what he needs to do.

"How to chase a guy on a screen, beat the guy to the post so he doesn't get the ball deep, how to move without the ball, how to slide when somebody penetrates. That's science in its own right, playing without the ball or guarding somebody without the ball. If he gets better at that, his whole game is gonna get better."

Whatever the reasons for the temporary downturn, Richmond is back in good graces and played more like a sophomore than freshman Tuesday. Even Spartan coach Tom Izzo valued the help Richmond gave Illinois in the game.

"He's kind of a mismatch. He's like our former player Raymar Morgan. I think he's tough enough he can post, he's athletic, he can guard different positions. He's a little better putting it on the floor. Not a great shooter, but he gives them versatility. That's what I think is very critical. He's got a little toughness to him; he doesn't seem like a wimp."

Coming from an opposing coach, those are flattering words. All Richmond needs to do now is continue to learn and grow to become consistent in his play. The growth process has it's ups and downs, but Richmond's potential is too positive to let a few temporary setbacks prevent him from reaching his long-term goals.

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