Waukegan's 6'-6" Jereme Richmond's potential has been obvious for several years, so it was not surprising Illinois coach Bruce Weber offered him a scholarship as a freshman in high school. He and his family have remained true to their word, continuing to support the UI during their struggles the last two years.
Now, he is emerging as a mature junior leader for his team while simultaneously taking personal interest in encouraging top players to join him as Illini. He believes Illinois can play for a National Championship when he is in school.
Jereme Richmond spoke with the media after his first round win over an overmatched Danville squad on the opening day of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. There were a number of Illinois fans watching and supporting him, and he signed autographs afterward, but he took it in stride.
"Yes, I felt it. But this was one of those days where we worked on things we need to get better at. Obviously, today wasn't the toughest game we had all season."
As the #1 seed, Waukegan appeared to take Danville lightly. They were winning easily at the half, but Richmond said they wanted to step up the pace.
"We played kind of sluggish at times at the beginning, and we didn't come out at the fast pace we've come out before. So halftime, we figured out what we needed to do to get better the second half. We tried to focus on coming out the second half faster and stronger."
The Waukegan guards harassed Danville out on the court, stealing the ball and producing numerous turnovers. So Richmond could sit back near the basket and relax on defense. Offensively, he could turn it on whenever necessary but settled for dunks, layups and free throws as all his teammates made contributions. Jereme realized the remaining games would be more competitive.
"The next games will be more tough, so we've got to get a good night's rest and come back tomorrow prepared to play. Historically, this is a great tournament, so we can't take any team lightly. Tomorrow, we'll come back prepared to play."
Talk turned quickly to the Illini and Richmond's future teammates. Chicago Mt Carmel's sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams committed to Illinois recently, and Jereme was eager to discuss him.
"Tracy is one of my best friends. We've gotten close the last couple months, so when he finally gave the word I was excited for him. I called him and we talked about it. He reassured me that was where he wanted to be. So as long as he's happy, I'm happy."
Richmond is a headliner, and he wants other star players to join him. So he puts in a good word about his future school when he can. Obviously, Illini coaches are the key for recruiting, but Jereme likes helping out.
"It's not my job to bring players in, but at the same time I like to encourage people to come in the future to be a part of something special. Good players who I see have potential like myself, I like to get together with them, compete and get better, and hopefully be a Final Four team."
One future teammate lives near him and has been a friend for a long time now. Warren's Brandon Paul has already signed with Illinois and is also playing in the Pontiac tournament.
"I see Brandon a lot. With him being here supporting me and me supporting him, it's a good thing. It's always good to have good friends and future teammates support each other."
Richmond benefits from having a good supporting cast this year. Guard Colin Nickerson is an absolute steal for Fairfield. He is 6'-3" with long arms and good quickness. He plays tough defense with his feet and shoots extremely well. He forces opponents to guard him, giving Jereme more freedom.
"We have a couple good players. Colin is a key feature. Last year he had a down year. So this year, it was time for him to step up. It's taken a lot of pressure off me, a lot of attention off me. He does his job, and that makes the team concept a lot easier."
Nickerson will join Chicago DeLaSalle point guard Derek Needham at Fairfield. Those two may someday give a BCS team fits in the NCAA tournament with their quickness and court savvy. Richmond agrees.
"I saw Needham play the other day at the University of Chicago. I'm excited for Colin. I kind of wish he'd be Orange and Blue. It didn't work out that way, but I'm happy for him nonetheless. Every day in practice, he's the one that pushes me to get better."
Jereme will miss Nickerson next year. But at the same time, he will be another year closer to fulfilling his long-term commitment to attend the University Of Illinois. Illini fans can't wait, and neither can he.