D.J.'s Maturity Will Pay Dividends For Illini

It has been a long time coming, but it's been worth the wait. Four Illini freshmen basketball players are enrolled in summer school and are preparing for their first college season after commiting to the program nearly two years ago. Peoria's D.J. Richardson got the bandwagon rolling when he picked the Illini, and he has the best chance of being a starter.

Peoria Central's D.J. Richardson spent his senior year of high school at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas to get his academics in order. Now qualified pending NCAA Clearinghouse approval, D.J. is excited to be on campus finally.

"It's been great. I've had a couple weeks to experience summer school, and now I'm coming in the gym playing with great players every day. We compete, so it's a good thing to be out here."

His Findlay Prep experience has helped him mature. And the rigorous national schedule which culminated in a national prep school championship helped Richardson improve his game.

"It's a big factor. Finishing the high school season 33-0, playing every day and competing in practice out there, and then coming here and competing every day, I think I'll be ready for the season this year."

Last year also helped him gain needed weight and strength.

"I went out to Findlay at about 170, and about two months later I was about 185. So I gained a lot of weight when I went out there. And I was able to keep it on for the whole season. They kept us lifting and doing a lot of workouts. I was on a good eating plan."

Top prep schools are loaded with outstanding talent, and all desire to showcase their talents to either receive major college scholarship offers or enhance their reputations with pro scouts. Since they will likely shoot once the ball is in their possession, it is up to someone else to feed them the ball.

Richardson took on that role gladly. It prevented him from averaging a high point total, but it helped him improve his all-around game.

"Yeah, I was doing a lot of stuff besides scoring, showing people I could do more than just score. I was a leader, and I was one of the best defenders on the team. That's what I'd like to do here, show everybody I can do more than score."

The competition level at Findlay Prep was outstanding, but Richardson knows he is now at a higher level.

"Everything is up to speed, and everybody is stronger. So that's the difference."

Richardson and his talented fellow freshmen Brandon Paul, Joseph Bertrand, and Tyler Griffey are hungry to win and earn playing time. Their competitiveness has brought a high level of intensity to Illini voluntary summer workouts.

"Everybody D up. That's what we call it. Everybody likes to play defense, and they're getting everybody ready. Everybody wants to win, so we want to win in open gym."

Peoria players are known for their defense, thanks in part to the emphasis Illinois assistant Wayne McClain brought to the table when he coached Peoria Manual. With head coach Bruce Weber also desiring strong defense, Richardson is ready for the challenge.

"I know Coach Weber loves a player who can play defense, and so does Coach McClain. I showed what I could do on defense throughout my high school career. I want to be a better defender."

With the graduation of starting guards Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham, there is a starting spot and playing time available. Richardson wants to be that man.

"I'd like to be a starter. I'd rather play. Minutes are up for grabs right now. Everybody's hungry for them. We have a lot of freshmen who are hungry for minutes. That's what will make our intensity so good."

Demetri McCamey is penciled in as the starting point guard for the upcoming season, but the backup spot is open with the decision by walkon Jeff Jordan to concentrate on his schoolwork. In open practices, Richardson seems to have the best skill level and leadership skills of the three freshmen guards to help out at the point. He has gravitated there during the workouts.

"Everyday Demetri comes at me hard, and everyday I go at him hard. The same thing for Brandon and Alex (Legion). They guard each other. All of us go at each other every day."

Richardson likes the opportunities available for a point guard in a system where the big men like Mike Tisdale pop outside at times. This opens up the lane for a penetrator like Richardson.

"An open lane gives me the chance to get to the bucket and create for my teammates. And to get myself some open shots."

Of the two, he has a preference.

"I'm more of a finisher. But if they collapse, I'll kick it out to my teammates."

Richardson has some definite career goals in mind after his playing days are over.

"I'll probably do Business Communications. I'd like to become either an entrepreneur, business man or college coach."

As far as school is concerned, Richardson's needs are basic at this early stage.

"Right now, my main thing is knowing my classes, trying to find my classes. I know my two summer classes, but I don't know my whole fall schedule."

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