It was a pleasure speaking with Waukegan's Jereme Richmond Sunday during the Illinois team camp shootout. He admits he let his early ratings and college attention make him complacent, but has matured greatly since he committed to the Illini three years ago.
"Yep, sure. A 14 year old kid made a big commitment to a prestigious university, that definitely will go to anybody's head. It took me awhile to get back into the flow with my teammates to work it out. I recognize what I need to do, it's just a matter of doing it now."
Among his problems was a lack of attentiveness to his schoolwork. There has been some concern he might have to attend a prep school his upcoming senior year, but he gave a big smile when he said he expects to stay at Waukegan.
"Yes, I'll be back."
Whitney Young defeated Waukegan for the Illinois state championship last winter, a loss Richmond and his teammates didn't take well.
"It was all right. We should have won in my opinion. It was a great season overall."
Richmond was often double teamed and forced to bang with physical players in the championship game, which sometimes made him shoot unbalanced shots. He discovered the value of adding strength to his slender body.
"They threw a couple defenders at me and mixed up their defensive scheme against me. Overall, it was a great challenge for us. It's a shame one team had to lose."
Waukegan has a chance to take the title this year, despite the loss of their talented guard Colin Nickerson, a Fairfield recruit.
"We're missing Colin, a great scoring threat and great floor leader. But we're returning most of our starting players. If we play as hard as last year, we should be ok."
Richmond has solidified his lofty national ranking with his play on the AAU circuit this spring. He is playing with the Mac Irvin Fire and drawing rave reviews.
"The AAU circuit this year is a lot of fun because my hard work is starting to pay off. In previous years, I didn't really understand what it took to be one of the best players in the country. But now, when you see so many players who are better, you want to get to that level.
"My biggest thing was, what can I do in the summertime to boost my level up. And that is just to work hard. It's pretty fun."
Mt. Carmel superstar point guard Tracy Abrams is joining the Fire AAU team for their big July national tournaments, joining future Illini teammates Richmond, Crandall Head, and Meyers Leonard. That group of all-stars is a threat for a national title without Abrams, but their chances improved considerably with him.
"Like I tell everybody, Tracy's a great guard. People don't know that he's a great leader on the floor. He's a young guy, but he gets everybody involved. Not just his penetration for draws and kicks. With Tracy playing with us, it should be a great addition to our team. We'll win a lot of ball games."
AAU teams travel all over the country in the months of April, May and July, but Richmond says the travel isn't a problem for most players.
"The travel isn't too tiring because a lot of us have been playing AAU since we were younger. You kind of get used to it."
That description doesn't fit Leonard, whose Robinson home is nowhere near Chicago and his teammates.
"Meyers is from down South, so he has to take the train up to Chicago. His trip is a little bit longer than ours. We just fly out and have a good time. It's cool."
The 7'-0" Leonard is a budding superstar in his own right, but Richmond is impressed with his willingness to be a team player.
"A lot of big guys demand the basketball because they feel like they work the hardest so they deserve the basketball all the time. But Meyers is a great teammate because he doesn't need the ball to be involved. He can find other ways to be involved that other big men don't know how to do.
"That's gonna make him better in my opinion than other big men in the country, which is rebounding, blocking shots and clearing out around the basket."
Top players want to play with other great players. Richmond's early commitment to Illinois has produced a snowball effect, encouraging other commitments. They sense a potential national championship and want to be a part of it.
"Sure. When I committed, it was like a whirlwind. Then you had D.J. (Richardson) and Brandon (Paul) and Crandall. With the buzz we created, this could be something special for years. So I'm excited."