D.J. Richardson Adapting Well To College

The Fighting Illini basketball team has been inconsistent this year, and part of the problem is having to incorporate young players into the lineup. It takes them awhile to adapt to college and the complexities of the game. But players like D.J. Richardson will always eventually become top players because of their work ethic and hunger to improve.

D.J. Richardson is averaging 11.1 points per game and shooting an outstanding .452 from the arc. His assist to turnover ratio is better than 1.0, and he is improving as a perimeter defender. Overall, he is having an excellent freshman season.

Inconsistency has marred his game, as it does with most freshmen. But he has an excellent attitude about it. Rather than feeling sorry for himself on nights his shot isn't dropping, he finds other ways to help the team.

"I've had ups and downs. At times, I've played really well. And then there are a couple games where I say, 'Wow, D.J., you've got to pick your game up a little bit.' I know after a couple games like that I need to get back on the right page.

"When I had bad shooting games against Michigan State and Purdue, I just played good defense. If I don't have a good shooting night, I just make sure I have a good defensive night."

That is a mature response, one that no doubt was enhanced by traveling to Henderson, Nevada, to play for Findlay Prep last season as a high school senior. He seems advanced beyond his years as a result.

That team was undefeated and won a National Championship with a rigorous travel schedule. College life has been an easier transition for him, moreso than losing on the basketball court.

"It's kind of hard for me, losing the 8 games we've lost already this season. Last year, we lost zero games. It's kind of frustrating right now. I hope we get better in the future."

What made that Findlay Prep team so special? Was the chemistry good?

"Yes, we got along pretty well. We had our ups and downs, but we found a way to figure it out and still be able to get the win. There were times we got in big arguments, but it still helped us to become a better team.

"I think our arguments at Findlay Prep helped us to prepare for a better game. There were times we got into arguments before a game, and we came out and beat a team by 30 as a whole team."

It may seem incongruous to some that a team could simultaneously have good chemistry but argue a lot. What they had in common, their shared purpose, overcame the rest.

"Everybody was upset about everything. Everyone wanted to win. You can't take anyone for granted. We beat teams by four points, we beat teams by 20. The arguments we had were because we wanted to win. We had a team full of fighters."

Richardson would like to take Illinois to an undefeated National Championship also. It may take him a little longer than originally planned.

"I expected a lot. These are very important minutes I play as a freshman. The start of the game and the start of the second half are very important times, as is the end of the game. So I'm playing a very important role. I'm gonna have a lot of experience in my next couple years here."

Richardson also realizes he needs to expand his repertoire of skills to be an all-around player.

"Next year, I think I'm gonna have to help bring the ball up the court. Whether Demetri (McCamey) is still here or not, I think I'm gonna have to help bring the ball up a lot. With Crandall Head and Jeff Jordan here, I'm gonna have to help them out. I'll have to be an extra point guard in our offense in addition to scoring.

"I'm gonna work a lot on my ball handling and get my confidence up. And make sure we have a good record. I said at the beginning of this year, I wanted this team to have a record that was better than 24-10. We're close to not being better than that. So if I can't get to that goal, I'll work to get better than that next year."

Richardson wants to be a lock-down defender like he was throughout high school. A lack of experience and strength are drawbacks at present, but little by little he is making progress defensively.

"There's great players in the Big 10. I think at the beginning of the year people really noticed my defense because the guards going against us were nowhere near as good as they are now. Now they are standing out even more, players like Talor Battle, Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious. These are great players I'm playing against, so I just have to stay hungry and keep fighting.

"I just want them to know after the year is over that D.J. Richardson has great defense. Like, 'Oh, man, I don't want to play against him again.' I want to be that type of player. I always want to make a statement on defense, to try to shut the best player down.

"Senior year of high school, I was more aggressive. I was like a bully because I was much stronger than most of the players I went against. But now in college, the guards are bigger than me and stronger than me. Now I've got to use my quickness.

"When I get older in college, I'm gonna get back to the stage where I'm stronger than a lot of guards and get to bully them like I did in high school."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber is pleased with Richardson's improvement during his freshman season.

"He had that one little slump where he missed all those shots in a row. To his credit, he was a little wounded mentally but he didn't quit shooting, coming back confidently.

"He's grown up a lot. He's a good kid, he enjoys being in college, he enjoys people. Joseph Bertrand did my radio show the other day, and D.J. came along. He talked to people and enjoyed it. I think he was trying to get a date, but at least he's having fun and enjoying college.

"I think sometimes guys try to be too cool. Cool just gets you in trouble. It's good in movies and in being a rock star, but it doesn't help you on the basketball court or in life."

Fellow Peorian Wayne McClain was Richardson's primary recruiter for the Illini. He also has been impressed with Richardson's development.

"I think he's been really really good for us. To play in the Big 10 on this level against all this great competition, to the job he's done says a lot about the type of player he is. Battle got a lot of points late, but he did an excellent job on him again. He did a good job on him the first time. Everybody's looking at his offense, but guarding as well as he's done, he's been good for us on both sides of the ball.

"If you watch him play, he's a little beyond his years in terms of maturity. We've been pleased. When you watch him every day, we maybe don't appreciate him as much as the fans because we see his flaws.

"But we're very happy with what he's done and how he's been a stellar performer for us. He makes big shots, he's fearless and a very confident player. For us to be successful, we've got to have him continue to play well.

"It's all new to him. I think the whole college atmosphere has been great for him. Going away to Findlay helped him, helped his maturation level. He is excited, he loves playing the game, and most times it shows on the court."

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