Richmond Maturation Obvious At Hall

Illinois basketball fortunes changed for the better two years ago when a skinny freshman went public with his commitment to the school. Jereme Richmond was listed as one of the five best players in the country at that time for his age group, and his firm and unwavering decision made it fashionable to attend Illinois again.

It is difficult to project a freshman four years into the future to see what type of person and player he will become. But that is what college coaches must do to stay ahead of competition. Sometimes, there are growing pains. Jereme Richmond was unhappy with his role on his Waukegan High School team last year, and he was suspended late in the season.

"Last year was kind of difficult for me," Richmond explains. "Over the summer, we all focused on coming back this year stronger and better than last year. Focusing on being more of a team, focusing on the team concept. Trusting the coach staff more. It's a lot more fun, and obviously everybody can tell from my attitude on the court."

For Jeremy, it was a process of growing up.

"Time naturally matures anybody. Last year we had bumps in the road and we've moved past that. Our attitude has changed dramatically. Every day in practice we prepare hard and it shows up in games.

"As a leader, I felt like I was focusing on my individual statistics last year. I trust my coaching staff and my teammates more this year. We're all working hard and that inspires me to do better.

"Last year was a bad experience for all of us. I don't want to be the downfall of a team anymore. That was the lesson I learned from that situation last year."

That's good news to Waukegan coach Ron Ashlow and also for Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who will become Jeremy's coach two years hence. A mature Jereme Richmond has tremendous potential as a basketball player, a student and as a person. That was obvious as he helped his team defeat Rock Island last Saturday at the Shootout At The Hall.

"We're a lot happier. When you win ball games, naturally you'll be more happy with yourself and your teammates. Whenever we come onto the basketball court and work as a team, it inspires us to get better. Every day when we go to practice we prepare hard, and it shows up in the game."

Jereme is the tallest player on his team at 6'-7", so he must play inside some to help his team. But he is a true point forward, a wing with outstanding passing ability and court vision. He can shoot, penetrate and dish, and he makes those around him better. He has nearly limitless potential. So when he complimented Rock Island's star sophomore guard Chasson Randle, he knows from which he speaks.

"We didn't really know much about Rock Island. I was down here about a month ago with my family, and I saw Randle play a little bit in a scrimmage. He's a great player. I just wish that we could have had a little bit better scouting report on him. I thought we adjusted well on the fly."

Assembled media focused on Richmond's early commitment to Illinois. He says he has no second thoughts or regrets.

"I don't doubt myself. Over the last year or so the more players that have committed, it's validating for me. It excites me more to come down here. So I can get down here and enjoy this atmosphere and the fans.

"I wouldn't say I was a trendsetter. It was just great timing. I felt like a lot of players were leaving our state, and I felt like we needed to get the U of I back on the map. I had to do it."

Jeremy has thrown down the gauntlet for future Illini teams. He believes Illinois will soon be competing for a national championship, and he expects to be part of it.

"I have the upmost trust in the U of I recruiting staff. I feel like they've brought in the necessary pieces to compete for that national championship. The talent will be here. The biggest key for us is to prepare every day in practice to win the championship."

To that end, he is already bonding with Illini players and likes the direction they're headed.

"My team has a better attitude and it seems like so does U of I's team. I talk to guys like Demetri McCamey and Dominique Keller, and everyone seems to be working hard in practice. And it shows up on the court."

He is also taking personal responsibility to ensure he will be surrounded by top talent. He communicates with fellow 2010 commitments Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard, and he contacts prospective recruits with interest in Illinois. He is an ambassador for the program before he even enrolls.

"It's not so much helping with recruiting. People make their own decisions for themselves. 2009 and 2010 will be very special for us. I try to encourage players who have the talent to be on our team in the future. I think it will be a great opportunity for anybody who wants to compete in 2009 and 2010 for a national championship. Recruiting isn't really my place, but I try to encourage players."

When Jereme Richmond committed as a freshman, four years seemed like an eternity to Illini fans, and it may have seemed that to him as well. But that is no longer a problem as he sees his enrollment at Illinois as right around the corner.

"Time really flew by these last two years. It's right around the corner. I have like one year and 6 months left I think. I'm real excited to get down here and see what we can do."

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