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Evaluating Jereme Richmond’s draft stock

One and done never was out of the question for Jereme Richmond. The 6-foot-7, versatile, athletic, passionate Waukegan native always had the talent.

But many were shocked Tuesday when Richmond announced his declaration to enter the NBA Draft, following a solid but unspectacular freshman season in which he averaged 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. He has not hired an agent, but an Illinois press release stated that the freshman would not return to Illinois.

Plenty of questions remain in this story – did Richmond, who was suspended for three games last season, have the choice to return to Illinois? – and the Illini must regroup (Who starts in the post next year? Did Bruce Weber’s seat just get hotter? Who is the leader of the team?).

But can Richmond, the Big Ten’s 18th leading rebounder, really be a first-round draft pick?

ESPN.com’s Chad Ford ranks Richmond the 45th overall prospect for the June 23, 2011 draft – behind Kansas freshman Josh Selby and in front of Duke senior Kyle Singler. NBAdraft.net projects Richmond to go 43rd overall in its mock draft, which was updated Tuesday.

Kristopher Habbas, scout and analyst for nbadraftinsider.com, doesn’t project Richmond as a first-round pick either but cautions that Richmond could still have a guaranteed NBA contract – second round picks don’t automatically earn guaranteed contracts – come June 24.

“The great thing about Richmond is he has every skill that a scout needs to overdraft a player,” Habbas said on ConnectFM’s “Tay and J Show” on Tuesday. “He’s extremely long. He’s got great size for his position. He’s a little frail on the frame, but he’s got a nice frame that he can fill out. But athletically he’s going to make every scout’s jaw hit the floor.”

Habbas said Richmond projected as a potential lottery pick in the 2012 draft, assuming he made progress with his jumpshot during a sophomore season at Illinois.

Richmond shot 52.8 percent from the field as a freshman, but most of those shots came in the paint. Richmond shot 2-for-12 from three and mostly played in the post. The 6-foot-7, 205-pound 19-year-old would need to extend his shooting range to last in the NBA.

“Everyone thought a sophomore year was coming where he could really build (his shot) up and maybe fill in those flaws,” Habbas said.

Habbas placed Richmond in the first round of his mock draft just a few months ago, but the Illini freshman slipped on the draft board after his two-game suspension during the NCAA Tournament for a violation of athletic department rules.

Meanwhile, other prospects – like fellow freshman Jeremy Lamb (UConn) – with little to no off-the-court questions have raised their stock.

 “It’s all about finding that right fit and his mentality,” Habbas said. “Is he going to be able to handle being a second round pick and not a lottery pick? And does he have that drive to continue working harder and prove he’s better than those other 30 guys?”

Few question whether Richmond has the talent to play in the NBA. But many doubt the timing.

“He’s got so many little things he can tool up over the summer and over another season of basketball,” Habbas said. “Longterm, he’s making the wrong decision today. But maybe five or six years down the road, we’ll say we were wrong.”

Categories: Illinois basketball
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