Home > Illinois basketball > Richmond back at Illinois, but still has work to do

Richmond back at Illinois, but still has work to do

CHAMPAIGN – Bruce Weber calmed Illinois basketball fans’ nerves with just three words.

“Jereme is back,” Weber said.

At least for the short term.

Freshman Jereme Richmond returned to the University of Illinois campus, along with most students following  a week off for spring break. Richmond, who was benched for the Illini’s two NCAA Tournament games for what Weber called a violation of athletic department rules, went through workouts with the team on Monday and – like all of his returning teammates – met with the Illini coaches.

Weber avoided giving a definitive answer on Richmond’s long-term status at Illinois, however.

“I mean, he’s here right now,” Weber said. “He’s part of the program. If he makes the progress he’s supposed to, then he’ll be there (next year).”

Richmond had the typical ups and downs of his freshmen season, but most of his setbacks came off the court.

Just as he seemed to get over the freshman hump, the Waukegan product was suspended for Jan. 15 road game at Wisconsin after missing practice for personal reasons. Richmond returned with a flurry, averaging 14 points and nine rebounds over the next four games. He earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors after averaging 7.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists.

But then came the NCAA Tournament benching, following a reported altercation with teammates in the locker room after a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal loss to Michigan.

“He’s kind of like our team,” Weber said. “He had some shining moments and really showed well and showed like the kid can be special. But he also has to mature, grow up, be more consistent in all areas of his life.”

With four seniors graduating – including the top three leading scorers – Illinois was counting on Richmond to play a key, and possibly starring, role during the 2011-12 season.

The McDonald’s All-American displayed a natural leadership ability at times during his freshman season. But the fiery Richmond may have some kissing up to do after letting his teammates down when they needed him most.

“The one thing we need is leadership, where someone is demanding,” Weber said. “But if you’re going to be demanding then you got to be demanding of yourself.

“As long as he takes care of business, he should be fine.”

Tip-ins: Weber said the entire freshmen class should be on campus by June. The Illini currently have a four-man signing class – Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu, Mychael Henry and Mike Shaw – but also have a verbal commitment from Huntsville (Ala.) Lee wing Devin Langford, who can sign when the spring signing period begins on April 13 … Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco, a redshirt senior, can sign a scholarship letter when he enrolls at Illinois in June … The Illini likely will play on a tour in Italy in August, Weber said. All freshmen would be eligible to play on the trip, thanks to a change to NCAA rules.

Weber addressed several other players that will play key roles next season:

D.J. Richardson: “We need someone to be the pied piper, to be the leader, to get guys in the gym, to take their games to another level. (Richardson) is a guy that I think everyone likes him. He’s got that personality. He’s fun-loving. He’d be the guy that can really do those type of things in the offseason.”

Crandall Head: “I’m not sure what position he is yet, but he can just be a great energy guy, a passion guy. …The kids like him. They like how hard he plays. You guys (media) have talked about it, he’s got to get his shot better. He’s got to take care of the ball better, but I loved his quickness, his energy and how he pushed the ball. And athletically, he can do some things.”

Brandon Paul: “Brandon’s just got to push his game to a whole ’nother (level). He’s got to do what he does in 10-12 minutes for 30 minutes. You look at the Vegas game (the NCAA Tournament win over UNLV) what he did in the first half is a great example of how good  he could be but also how he doesn’t take it over to the second half. …He can be that explosive and talented, but he just has trouble pushing it and doing it again.”

Meyers Leonard: “I hope he wants it. I hope he pushes himself. Strength is a factor. Intensity. Just figuring out how to be a big man, I think, is probably his biggest thing.”

Joseph Bertrand: “He showed some glimmers, like he was making some progress. He is a (redshirt) freshman. He has the athleticism. I think he’s got to find a niche in our system, and maybe we’ve got to help him find a niche. What can he be? Can he be the athlete and get out? … That’s one thing he can do is get out in transition and make a basket, but in the halfcourt offense he’s got to find a niche.”

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