The Future of Illinois Basketball

Get inside InsideIllini.com for an interview with each of the fabulous recruits recently committed to Illinois' head coach Bruce Weber and his staff: D.J. Richardson of Peoria Central; Stan Simpson of Chicago Simeon; Brandon Paul of Warren Township; Joseph Bertrand of Sterling; and Jereme Richmond of Waukegan. Each hails from the state of Illinois.



The "Future" of Illinois basketball is right here before your eyes. Don't take anything away from the young and talented players that are already on campus, as they are laying the foundation for continued success. But the upcoming classes prove that this success will continue for a long time to come.

Success is something Bruce Weber knows well as head coach at Illinois. As Weber enters his 5th season in Champaign, he's done nothing but win and he's done so at a record pace. Over the last four years, Weber has been one of the most successful college basketball coaches in the nation with 112 victories, which ties him with Billy Donovan of Florida and Coach K at Duke. The 112 wins to start his Illinois career rank as the most ever by a Big Ten coach in his first four seasons at one school.

At the start of each college basketball season, coaches and their teams set goals such as winning conference titles or reaching and winning the NCAA tournament. In 2004-05, Bruce Weber had a season that will never be forgotten, as fans across the country embraced the Illini's version of college basketball. That Illini squad stormed through the first 29 games undefeated before ending with a 37-2 record and runner-up finish in the NCAA tournament.

But the knock on Weber, the past couple of seasons, has been his inability to keep winning at the same clip as 2004-05 and his inability to bring in the kind of players that will keep Illinois in contention for national championship banners. It appeared Weber had conquered the latter critique, as he landed one of the nation's best players in Eric Gordon. However, Weber's appearance as a successful recruiter took a hit when Gordon had a change of heart and enrolled at Indiana University. This was a major blow to Illinois because Weber stopped recruiting any other player at that position, as nearly any coach would, leaving a huge void at shooting guard. The negative stigma appeared to fester as the Illini looked to change their luck. Those lucky enough to know Bruce Weber understand the kind of a quality person and coach he really is. But we also know that in today's world, regardless of who you are, nobody will please everyone all the time. I'm sure Weber knows that.

With the pundits looking to bring down Weber, the staff kept searching for that special star recruit to say "yes" to the Illini and start the parade that would get others to follow. Jereme Richmond, the number one player in state of Illinois for the class of 2010 and a five-star recruit by Scout.com, committed shortly after the Illini lost Gordon, which helped a bit. But the critics did not keep quiet for too long, as Illini fans saw player after player verbally commit elsewhere.

The lean times continued for what seemed like forever, but starting on October 11, 2007, and the days that followed, Weber saw his fortunes change. D.J. Richardson said yes to Weber and became the type of piped-piper that got the ball rolling. Brandon Paul and Joseph Bertrand followed shortly thereafter, within a 24-hour period. With a well-stocked perimeter attack on board, the Illini began building a powerful inside attack when Stan Simpson committed on October 15. No one really knows how any of these players will pan out, but from a recruiting standpoint, Weber hit the jackpot with these student-athletes. And these young men will become the face of the Illinois basketball program in the near future.

While there is much to look forward to, we asked each of the recruits to look back and discuss the prospects of playing together and why they picked Illinois. They also talked about what they hope to accomplish before the November 5th start of high school basketball practice and during the season.

Kedric:
Each of you had a number of schools you could have played for, but you chose to stay home and play for your state school, why?

D.J.:
I wanted to play for my state and represent Illinois the best I could. They have a great school with a lot of great basketball tradition and good coaches down there. Also, it's very important to me to have my family come see me play, it's a close drive for them. Also, some of my friends could make the drive if they wanted.

Joseph:
I just liked the university. I know a lot of people there and I've known Coach Weber since my 8th grade year, going to his camps. Also, I told D.J. after he committed that I wanted to come there, too. He's a great basketball player and a good person. He will be a good teammate.

Brandon:
The biggest reason was so my family and friends could come see me play. I'm very close with my brother who is already there at Illinois, so all those things played a part in it for me. Just being close to home and playing for a program like Illinois is why I did it and it's been proven you can win at Illinois.

Stan:
Definitely the location, it's really important to me that the people that matter in my life, who helped me make that decision, are able to come see me play games, and Illinois is a great school.

Jereme:
A lot of in-state kids left for others schools and I don't get that. People have to do what they have to. Guys like Jon Scheyer and Sherron Collins picked other places, but I just felt I had to be loyal to my home state school. It wasn't that hard of a decision for me really.

Kedric:
How well do you know each other from a personal standpoint? Do you call each other, text, or contact each other on Facebook or Myspace? What about competition with or against each other?

D.J.:
We talk once in a while, but not a lot. We all share phone numbers so if one of us plans to make a visit down there we'll sometimes call and say "hey I'm going down this weekend can you come," just things like that. But, I'm sure we will become closer the more the year goes on. I'll be looking to see how they're playing.

Joseph:
I really don't know them all that well, and I just set up my Myspace page so maybe things will pick up there, who knows. But I have talked on the phone with them though it has been very limited. Once the season starts and we're down there for more games, I'm sure that will all change.

Brandon:
I know Jereme the best, and I've seen D.J. from AAU ball. I played with Jereme so I know him pretty good, but from everything I've been told they're all really good, so that means we should be too, once we get to Illinois.

Stan:
I really don't know them that well either, were in a different class; I talked to D.J. on my visit, but not the other guys yet. D.J. is a cool person. He's nice and very humble. He's definitely fun to be around and I enjoyed my time down there with him for sure.

Jereme:
I'm more close to D.J. and Brandon. I've played against Brandon since my 7th grade year. We text each other a little but it's not like something we do a lot of. I'm sure once we get to school down there or when we make visits to games, we'll learn more about each other.

Kedric:
Tell us how much pressure there is on young student-athletes today when it comes to the recruiting business. Did you get tired of it?

D.J.:
After I committed it was a lot easier and less stressful. I was getting a lot of mail and I was tired of waiting because a lot of coaches would tell me they were going to come see me play or I had to wait around a lot for them. I was just tired of all of it really. Virginia was the school that came in second with me, they did a good job of recruiting me too, but my mom didn't like the idea of the distance. Plus, Coach Jerrance Howard and Coach Wayne McClain were good to me and they are both Peoria guys. So yes, it's a lot better now that I've committed.

Joseph:
It was kind of tiring, but I just narrowed my choices down after a while, and started to think of what would be the ideal situation for me. Obvious, I liked Illinois a lot because I picked them. But Marquette, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame were all a close second.

Brandon:
I really didn't get tired of it. I did get a lot of mail but I think it's a good thing for any athlete to get recruited the way some of us have been. I was getting hit hard by Northwestern and Purdue, but they got two other players so Purdue kind of backed off a little. Texas and Wisconsin were showing a lot of interest in me too, but I never let it get to me. I knew it was a long process.

Stan:
My decision wasn't tough at all. I had a lot of support from my pastor, my high school coach, and my family. I didn't have to go through this all by myself.

Jereme:
No, it wasn't too bad really, I knew what I wanted to do. I just got it out of the way early. Some kids feel pressure to commit to a certain school but if they have options, I'm sure most of them will weigh them and make the right choice.

Kedric:
What do you think of the coaches at Illinois? How good of a job did they do when it came to recruiting you and what do you like about the system Illinois runs?

D.J.:
Illinois has a good system in place and they put together a great staff. I think Coach Howard did a good job and he's proven he can recruit and coach. When he was at Texas A&M University and Kentucky, he kept doing his thing and now he's at Illinois trying to help keep our program going strong. All the coaches bring something different to the table, I know Coach McClain really stresses defense and Weber will be able to teach us how to move better on offense.

Joseph:
Well it took awhile for them to put an offer on the table for me, but I knew I was someone on their list. I'm very excited about playing in that system with all of us. We run a lot of the same thing (Motion) with my AAU team, it's great. The offense is designed for you to have some freedom, but it's also structured. It allows us to create shots for us and our teammates, a lot of driving and kicking out to the wings too.

Brandon:
We have a great coaching staff. I knew Illinois kept me in their minds the entire time. They made that very clear and that meant a lot to me. Coach Weber has a great system in place and it's really good for guards.

Stan:
Coach Weber said if I work hard in the beginning, I should be fine and once I get there I could play a lot. They have an awesome staff, I like them all and know that Coach Howard is cool and he's a good coach. Coach Price is funny and I like to be around him. I'm just glad I made the decision to go there.

Jereme:
Oh, this staff is definitely more exciting with Coach Jerrance Howard on board now. I know all the coaches down there will help us work on our game to become better players. I like the offense we run because everyone gets to touch the ball and when you don't have shots you can set screens and get your teammates open. That's my game and it's worked very well for Illinois and Coach Weber.

Kedric:
Now that you decided to further your education and basketball career at Illinois, what has life been like for you in your community and school?

D.J.:
The day I committed, it was all great. I got a lot of messages on Myspace from people. I've signed a lot of autographs. I went to Wal Mart and people kept coming up to me telling me how happy they were for me and then all of a sudden a line started and I was there singing autographs for people. Then, one time, I had to go speak at Thomas Jefferson Elementary school. I was really nervous, I had never done anything like that. But the more I was up there the better I got. It's been really nice. Everyone has been great about it. I'm not bragging or anything but it's cool that all of us committed when we did. I had a lot to do with it. Coach Weber told me he spoke with Brandon's mom right after I committed, then everyone just started to call each other about doing it. When I came down to Illinois, a lot of the fans thanked me and told me they were proud of me for getting this great class started. That made me feel pretty good about things.

Joseph:
Our football games have been kind of fun for me, a lot of people come up and ask me for autographs, it's really nice. The fun part of it can be when my friends ask me to play them one on one. I just laugh and tell them they can't handle me, I've got too much game (Laugh).

Brandon:
It's been really fun. All my friends congratulated me on my decision. They're just really excited. Actually, a lot of people that congratulate me are people I don't even know, that's kind of neat too. But a few of my classmates come up to me all the time asking to play me one on one, I just laugh and smile at them.

Stan:
Most people congratulated me, but for the most part, people have been the same to me. Some of my teachers said it was a good choice and they want us to get Illinois back to the Final Four.

Jereme:
When I first committed at my old school I encountered a lot more people congratulating me. But since my move, not too much, I think people are kind of used to it now, so it's been pretty good.

Kedric:
This is my last question, what are your personal goals for this upcoming high school season and what have you done to get ready for it?

D.J.:
I know you're talking about high school but I really want Illinois to get back to the Final Four again so we can show people how good we're going to be. But for my high school team, I just want everyone to play hard and try to win as many games as possible and then see what happens when the state tournament rolls around.

Joseph:
Work hard, that's the bottom line. Now that our football season is over, a lot of those guys are coming around more. We get up in the morning and work out, then after school we do a lot of shooting drills, defense, and running. I just want to have a great year and for our team to do well.

Brandon:
After school, as a team, we lift weights and work on conditioning. From a personal standpoint, I'm working on my ball handling and my jump-shot. Those are things I think will help my high school team and me personally.

Stan:
I really want to work on my outside shot and focus on my ball handling because I want to play the three or four in college. I also need to get stronger. Illinois did a great job in showing me what they had to offer. Arkansas was a good school too, they were my second choice but I'm an Illini and I'm glad about my choice.

Jereme:
I just want us to play hard as a team for as long as we can. I'm working on everything from my ball handling, shooting and my defense. There's no time to relax, I want to stay ahead of the learning curve and get better each day and each year.

These five young men are not only great basketball players but they're gentlemen as well. I guess the old saying is true: coaches like to recruit players that could end up just like themselves. It appears all of these young men are class acts, just like Bruce Weber.

Not pictured in the main story is Stan Simpson, but here is one from Scout.com.


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