Some consider 6'-3" guard D. J. Richardson the headliner of the Illini's 2009 basketball recruiting class. He has the shooting skill, quickness, defensive work ethic and leadership skills to be a frontrunner for a starting spot on next year's Illinois quintet. And his commitment inspired Brandon Paul, Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey to follow his lead and commit to the Illini.
Richardson transferred from Peoria Central to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas for his senior year to improve his grade point average and prepare for his ACT. The move induced some to fear he might open up his recruitment. But D. J. continued to reinforce his love for Illinois to whomever asked, and he's finally able to prove it. He is relieved to sign with the Illini.
"Yeah, it's been a long time, since the beginning of my junior year. I'm pretty excited. I think this will close the deal for everyone out there that I'll be an Illini."
His new school appears ideal in helping students get the academic assistance they need to improve their grade point averages. And D. J. also attends an ACT preparatory class.
"They make sure we stay after school for team study halls. So we do a lot of studying and keep on the books."
While he'd prefer to be in Illinois, Richardson has adapted well to his new surroundings.
"Everything's going pretty well. It went better than I thought it was gonna be. I thought I was gonna be homesick, but I didn't get homesick at all. I've been playing AAU ball since eighth grade, so that helps."
D. J. is part of a basketball program that is rated preseason as the second best prep school team in the country. It is loaded with top talent, and he gets to practice with great players daily.
"It's the best team you can have to compete with everyday in practice. They all have the same talent. It helps you find out what you need to improve on and get better at."
Some have wondered if D. J. could play point guard because of his leadership skills and ability to involve his teammates. But he prefers the shooting guard spot.
"I've played point guard a little bit. I don't play it as much here. I like playing the two man. I like making the defense shift to me so I can make my teammates better. I'm always looking for helpside and all that."
Richardson made his official visit to Illinois the weekend of the "World's Biggest Basketball Practice," and he enjoyed meeting and playing pickup games with fellow recruits and future teammates.
"Yeah, it was pretty fun. It allowed us to feel what it would be like to play with them. It makes me pretty excited, getting to play with Demetri McCamey and Brandon Paul."
It also excites Richardson to ponder the future of Illinois basketball with all the outstanding talent joining him.
"I think we can have a great team in the future. Next year, when we get there, I think we'll do pretty good."