Home > Illinois basketball > Jereme Richmond investment worthwhile for Weber, Illini

Jereme Richmond investment worthwhile for Weber, Illini

Four years of waiting amounted to this: 31 games, 236 points, 156 rebounds and three games missed due to off-the-court issues.

Unfulfilling is the word that comes to mind when summing up Jereme Richmond’s long affiliation, yet short (10 months) stay, at Illinois.

The first McDonald’s All-American to attend Illinois since Dee Brown in 2002, Richmond opted to leap to the NBA on Tuesday and will not return to Champaign, according to a University release. It’s a curious decision considering he is not a first-round lock for June’s draft after he averaged 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds – almost 10 points and five rebounds less than Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, who reportedly will return to the Buckeyes for a sophomore season.

After a 19-year-old’s decision, Illini coach Bruce Weber loses his most talented returning player, his best returning rebounder, his toughest player and the prized recruit of his eight-year tenure.

But he also rids his program of a player who let his team down when it most needed him – Richmond was suspended for the Jan. 15 loss at Wisconsin for “personal reasons” and again benched for the Illini’s two NCAA Tournament games for a violation of athletic department rules – and a player that was involved in off-the-court issues (a high school transfer, a spat with his high school coach and multiple suspensions) since he started playing varsity basketball.

So was this five-year rollercoaster ride – Richmond committed as a freshman following his first high school game in 2007 – worth itfor Weber and the Illini?

Absolutely.

After missing on top in-state recruits Sherron Collins, Julian Wright and Jon Scheyer and losing the verbal commitment of then-Indiana prep star Eric Gordon, Weber altered his approach: get to the in-state kids – literally, 14- and 15-year-olds – before the big dogs, like Kansas and Duke, get a whiff.

It all started with Richmond.

Suddenly, the dominos finally started to fall for Weber on the recruiting trail.

Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Joseph Bertrand – all in-state prospects – committed just months after Richmond to form a top-15 class. By the next summer, Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard joined Richmond in the fold. Weber signed his third straight Top-15 class, headlined by four top-100 in-state recruits, last November.

Without Richmond and the recruits that followed, Weber may not have lasted at Illinois beyond a 16-19 campaign in 2007-08 and another missed NCAA Tournament in 2010.

Weber alluded to Richmond’s impact in a statement released Tuesday: “We wish Jereme the best and thank him for all he has meant to the Illinois basketball program, from the time he committed as a high school freshman through his contributions this past season.”

Still, Weber will have to answer questions about the details of the Richmond fiasco to future Chicago recruits. Some thought Richmond should have received more playing time and that Weber was holding the freshman back.

But Weber may also gain points with those who respect the way Weber handled the situation and understand that Richmond brought all of this upon himself.

Richmond’s Illini career may always be remembered as a “What if?” But even though the one-year results are unfulfilling following four years of hype, the longterm impact on the program made Richmond a worthwhile risk.

Jeremy Werner is co-host of the “Tay and J Show,” which airs on 93.5, 95.3 ConnectFM and on www.myconnectfm.com. Post your comments below or e-mail Jeremy at jeremy@myconnectfm.com.

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