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Thoughts on Jereme Richmond: his uncle, his decisions and Jerrance Howard

Every family has the talker. The one that thinks his words rise to the top. The one that doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.

In Jereme Richmond’s living bloodline, that seems to be his uncle Crawford Richmond.

Crawford chose to be the mouthpiece of the Richmond clan when all others, including Jereme and his parents mounted a brick-wall defense with the media after the Illinois freshman went unselected in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Speaking with Chicago Tribune reporter Chris Hine following the draft, Crawford Richmond – who played college basketball at Long Beach State – raised many eyebrows when he said his nephew is “way better” than No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving.

But that’s just a juicy nugget you’d expect to hear from a talented player’s family member.

Most of the hullabaloo surrounds Crawford Richmond’s accusation that Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard was one of the negative voices in his nephew’s ears. Crawford Richmond said Howard consistently told Jereme that he was a “one-and-done” prospect in order to keep him committed as a high-school prospect.

Crawford said similar comments from media, friends and agents made Jereme Richmond believe he was a sure-fire first-round pick, despite pleas from his family to return to school.

“I would never want to talk to Jerrance Howard again in my life,” Crawford Richmond said.

The Illinois staff obviously was not very happy about the stories. But Hine told me Monday evening that he gave both Howard and head coach Bruce Weber multiple phone calls to ask them for comment on what the uncle said. He also told them when the story would be published.

Howard did not return calls and Weber responded with a simple text message: “Very tough situation! Hope Jereme can still reach his goal and will help him anyway we can!”

Since joining the Illinois staff in 2007, Howard has been a recruiting wunderkind. He’s almost single-handedly reinvigorated Illinois’ recruiting efforts, helping Weber tap into Chicago and nab three straight top-25 recruiting classes.

Howard has received praise from local and national media alike, received interest from other programs and subsequently twice given raises from Illinois.

This is one of the first times Howard has received negative press for allegedly telling Richmond following the departure of Tracy Webster – Richmond’s lead recruiter as a high school underclassmen – from the Illini staff that he was a “one-and-done” prospect to keep the phenom from looking for greener pastures. Neither Howard nor Weber refuted Crawford Richmond’s claims.

If true, Howard did what he had to do to keep Illinois’ first McDonald’s All-American since Dee Brown, like most assistants across the country would. Is it right? That’s debatable, because it was entirely plausible for Richmond to play just one year at Illinois based on his talents. But for maybe the first time, Howard didn’t flash that trademark smile from something published in the media about him.

****

I didn’t put much thought into anything else Crawford Richmond said. But Bill Richmond, Jereme Richmond’s father, had some enlightening comments when he finally chose to speak to the Tribune following publication of his brother’s comments.

Bill Richmond confirmed that Jereme chose not to attend workouts but refused to say why. He also said that he advised his son to return to Illinois for his sophomore season.

He even went as far as saying his son “might have some sense of entitlement, based on being put in this position for so many years.”

And people say Bruce Weber is sometimes too truthful and throws his players under the bus. Bill Richmond’s comments may have been misguided if he was trying to help his son, but they sure seem truthful

Message boards, fans and even some media put out the vibe that Richmond– who committed toIllinoisafter his first high school games as a freshman – would be the savior of Illinois basketball and return the program to the Big Ten elite for the first time since a NCAA runner-up finish in 2005.

He was a top-30 national recruit, a McDonald’s All-American and Illinois Mr. Basketball as a senior. The 6-foot-7, highly skilled, athletic Waukegan product was the man, he was told. And he believed it.

Ignoring the rationale that a bench player (Richmond averaged 7.5 points and 5.0 rebounds) on a mediocre Big Ten team with character concerns (he was suspended for one regular season game and the Illini’s two NCAA Tournament games for undisclosed reasons) isn’t the most attractive commodity to the NBA, Richmond foolishly entered the NBA Draft.

Sadly, that cost him a promising collegiate career. Now, it may cost him the once seemingly foregone conclusion that he would play in the NBA. With the league headed toward a likely lockout, even the NBA Developmental League is questionable for next season, and Europe doesn’t seem like the best place for a 19-year-old with maturity concerns. Ask Jeremy Tyler.

****

Jereme Richmond remains quiet. He never was very charming in front of the cameras, microphones and voice recorders, but he seemed to embrace the limelight when the publicity was positive. But as he did during his separate suspensions at Illinois, Richmondhas again run from the media when things aren’t going so well.

Another mistake for Jereme: his silence opened the door for his uncle’s controversial comments.

“He’s been humbled by this process, believe me,” his father, Bill Richmond, said.

For Jereme’s sake, let’s hope so.

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Brandon Lloyd: ‘I always represent my Illinois colors’

Ten years later, Brandon Lloyd still loudly wears the orange and blue.

Sporting an orange tie covered by a blue Illinois pullover embossed with a Chief Illiniwek patch over his right pectoral, Lloyd appeared to be one of the most excited to attend Saturday’s 10-year reunion of the 2001 Big Ten championship Illini football team.

“Even when I still go to the airport, I like to wear some Illinois stuff,” Lloyd said. “I always get an ‘I-L-L’ from out of nowhere and I’m looking around saying, ‘Who said that?’ I always represent my Illinois colors.”

Lloyd was one of an estimated 50 members of the 2001 outright Big Ten champs – the only team not named Michigan or Ohio State to win the conference title outright since 1999 – to participate in this weekend’s activities, including a tour of the football facilities Friday and a golf outing and dinner on Saturday.

“Ten years have gone by but not a lot has changed with guys’ personalities and the way they look and laugh and the way we interact,” Lloyd said. “It’s interesting to see how long we’ve been apart but how close we are when we get back together.”

Lloyd still emits the star quality he displayed during back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Illini in 2001 and 2002 before foregoing his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. Entering his ninth season in the NFL, Lloyd is riding the momentum of his best season.

In his second season with the Denver Broncos, he led the NFL with 1,448 yards on 77 catches, grabbing 11 touchdowns. The accolades followed, including Pro-Bowl and second-team All-Pro selections.

“It was very exciting,” Lloyd said. “I think about it a lot and I think about what I can do better going into next season and preparing myself and making sure I’m healthy so that when the season does start I’m able to do my best to do that season over again.”

Last season marked the first time Lloyd had more than 50 catches and 750 yards in the NFL. He showed promise in San Francisco after being drafted in the fourth round by the 49ers, accumulating 1,510 receiving yards in three seasons. But his career cooled down during stops with the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears.

So what brought about a career year last season? Opportunity and the right people around him, Lloyd said.

“It was (head coach) Josh McDaniels and it was (quarterback) Kyle Orton,” Lloyd said. “Not taking anything away from what I did to prepare myself for that season. But Coach McDaniels believed I was going to make the plays for him and Kyle Orton trusted that I’d be there to make the catches.”

But leading the NFL in receiving didn’t boost his confidence, Lloyd said, because he never lacked in that area.

“If you ask any of these guys, my confidence has always been sky high,” Lloyd guffawed. “I didn’t need that season to be confident! But it definitely gives you more than enough confidence going into the next season.”

For all his love for Illinois, Lloyd chose to leave the university with a year of eligibility remaining to enter the NFL. The Illini went 1-11 in what would have been Lloyd’s senior season as he struggled to earn repetitions in his first season with the 49ers.

So does Lloyd ever regret not spending one more year in the orange and blue?

“No,” Lloyd said. “I think that wasn’t something that I was on the fence about. I knew that was going to be my path and I wasn’t jumping in head first. I knew what I was getting into and I was willing to do the necessary work to make it successful. I’m just continuing to try to make my path work.”

Categories: Illini, Illinois football

Peoria Chiefs hit home run with LeBron promotion

PEORIA– Minor-league baseball marketing departments have some of the most creative folks in the world. They have to be when their job is to attract baseball fans to come watch players with names they’ve never heard before.

Cheap beer, free food and other gimmicks put butts in the seats (my favorite has to be “Office Space Night,” when the Dunedin Blue Jays celebrated the late ’90s comedy film, complete with a “flair” contest and printer-smashing).

But the front office of the Peoria Chiefs, the Chicago Cubs Class A minor-league affiliate, came up with a doozy earlier this week when about 12 staff members sat around three tables for lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Like most sports fans, the central Illinois natives had plenty of Miami Heat hate and enjoyed watching LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat blow a 2-1 series lead, losing the final three games to the Dallas Mavericks and failing to claim the first of James’ “not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championship guarantee during last July’s pyro-filled, 11-month-too-early celebration.

Watching highlights of the Heat’s Game 6 loss to the Mavericks on Monday, the Chiefs staff tossed crazy idea around the table.

“We all kind of laughed and we all kind of looked around and each other and it just kind of clicked,” Chiefs spokesman Nathan Baliva said Wednesday.

The Chiefs will have plenty of fun at LeBron’s expense, handing out LeBron James replica rings during Thursday’s 7 p.m. home game against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at O’Brien Field. But fans won’t have the chance to take the prizes home, because the replica ring “like LeBron’s is non-existent,” a press release said.

Then the ideas built up like LeBron’s turnovers in Game 6.

One fan will win a replica of James’ Finals MVP award – again a non-existent award because Dirk Nowitzki claimed the 2011 Finals MVP – and fans also will have the opportunity to learn the Heimlich maneuver “to prevent themselves or their colleagues from choking in a big situation,” the release said.

The Chiefs also will honor the ’90s Chicago Bulls, which won six NBA championships behind Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen “to celebrate a true champion,” the release said.

The Chiefs also contemplated skipping the fourth quarter “to honor King James who took off the fourth quarter of every finals game,” the release said. James scored a combined 18 points in the fourth quarter of the six-game series. But Baliva said Wednesday that the Midwest League nixed that idea.

The promotion is not yet a box office hit. “Plenty of tickets” are available for Thursday’s game, Baliva said, adding that attendance usually relies on the weather. But the Chiefs’ gimmick has charmed the mainstream media.

ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, CBSSports.com, USA Today, CNN and the Huffington Post all have posted online stories about the non-giveaway. During nine years with the team, Baliva has never fielded so many calls about a promotion. Not since Cubs great Ryne Sandberg took over as manager in 2006 have the Peoria Chiefs made headline news.

“I don’t know if we thought it was going to do what it has done,” Baliva said.

Not all love the promotion. Chiefs pitcher Cameron Greathouse, a Heat fan, joked with the team that he might not show up to Thursday’s game out of protest.

But for the Chiefs, sitting at 33-31 and 8.5 games back in the MID Western division, any boost to attendance and their Q rating is a win. Peoria has averaged about 2,500, though only about 1,600 came through the turnstiles last Thursday.

Baliva said attendance usually is down during April and May but decreased more this season because of a wet spring. The team averaged 3,300 last year and hopes the ring-less promotion is the spark for the summer.

“If it sells a couple hundred extra tickets, it’ll be a success,” Baliva said. “We see other teams doing stuff like this. Now, we got one.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Alumni game good for fans, Weber and recruiting

An August basketball in the non-air-conditioned Assembly Hall doesn’t sound like a great idea. But add Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Kendall Gill, Brian Cook and a slew of other Illini greats to the billing, you have a crowd-magnet.

Illinois announced yesterday that it will host an alumni basketball game Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Assembly Hall. Fans also will have the opportunity to watch the current Illini, including the six newcomers that already have joined the roster this summer, during an intrasquad scrimmage to precede the alumni game.

But like “A Night of Legends,” the key to scheduling this year’s game was landing NBA superstar Deron Williams. Now a member of the New Jersey Nets following a midseason trade from the Utah Jazz, Williams will hold two events on Aug. 6 – a golf outing in the morning at Stone Creek and a post-game reception on campus at the Activities andRecreationCenter– to fund-raise for his Point of Hope Foundation.

“Deron kind of spearheaded the thing,” Weber said. “Having the starpower that he brings to get him back, we just appreciate him staying involved. The opportunity to have the players back on campus, I know they appreciate it. The fans appreciate it.”

The game is not only fun for the fans, participants, coaches and media.  But the fact that Williams, a gold medalist withU.S.Olympic team, remains involved with the UI program – the Nets’ point guard remains close with former teammate Jerrance Howard – is a boon for Weber’s credibility and recruiting prowess.

Remember, most recruits were in grade school when Williams, Brown and Head led the Illini to the 2005 NCAA Championship game and were too young to remember when Frank Williams and Brian Cook raised Bill Self’s teams to the Big Ten elite.

If recruits didn’t know Williams as an Illini, they know him as a two-time All-Star and one of the top point guards in the world. And you can bet that a few of the top Illini recruiting targets will be in attendance for the alumni game to watch Brown, the face of the 2004-05 team; and longtime NBA players Cook, Gill and Head.

“To keep those guys in touch and part of the basketball family I think is so, so important,” Weber said.

Details:

Tickets for the game ($25 each for A section and $15 each for B and C sections) will be made available to IFUND members and season ticket holders before being made available to the public on July 11.

At halftime of the alumni game,Illinoiswill honor the teams from the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons that won back-to-back Big Ten championships.

Planned participants in the Aug. 6 alumni game include:

Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Kendall Gill, Brian Cook, Kiwane Garris, Frank Williams, Demetri McCamey, Cory Bradford, Kevin Turner, Jerry Hester, Robert Archibald, Sergio McClain, Brian Randle, Damir Krupalija, Trent Meacham, Mike Davis, Jarrod Gee, Lucas Johnson, Mike Tisdale, Chris Gandy, Jack Ingram, Marcus Griffin, Calvin Brock and Arias Davis, as well as current UI basketball staff members and former players Jerrance Howard, Sean Harrington and Chester Frazier.

Djimde admission ‘still a work in progress’

Six Illinois basketball newcomers were listed on the university directory on Monday, the first day of summer classes at Illinois: freshmen Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu, Mycheal Henry, Devin Langford, Mike Shaw and senior transfer Sam Maniscalco.

That leaves one missing from Illini coach Bruce Weber’s  Class of 2011 recruiting haul.

Spring signee Ibrahima Djimde still has not received clearance from the NCAA or the university to enroll for summer courses. It’s not an academic issue that’s keeping Djimde, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Africa, away. Rather the NCAA and UI must verify his foreign transcripts, a complicated procedure.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Weber said. “I said since probably after we signed him that it was probably going to be a bit more complicated than I anticipated. He’s probably close to getting all the stuff to the NCAA where you can have some kind of the decision by them and then also we’re kind of getting everything together at the University to see if he can get admission here.”

Weber said “there’s no doubt” Djimde will enroll in the fall, but the Illinois coach hopes the process can come to a close quickly so Djimde can enroll in shortened summer courses or online classes. If he does not complete three hours of courses this summer, he will not be eligible to participate or play in the Illini’s tour of Italy in August and likely would fall behind teammates in the competition for playing time.

 “If we can work it out in the next week or 10 days, it would be great to have him,” Weber said. “We’re hoping.”

Stephen Bardo: Illinois run “like the University of East Central Illinois”

Former Illinois basketball player Stephen Bardo said during a radio interview Wednesday that the university should hire an athletic director that prioritizes widening the influence of Illini athletics across the state.

Bardo, a member of the Flyin’ Illini 1989 Final Four team and a college basketball analyst for ESPN, said outgoing athletic director Ron Guenther “had a tremendous run” over his 19 years as athletic director but that the athletic department had a narrow scope during his tenure.

“This is no slight to Ron Guenther, but lately the program’s been run like the University of East Central Illinois,” Bardo said on the ‘Tay and J Show’ on 93.5/95.3 ConnectFM. “It’s the University of Illinois. It represents people in Cairo, Illinois; Freeport to Quincy on the west and Champaign and Danville on the east and everything in between. The brand got a little stale. I don’t think it was run quite like the flagship school of the state.

“I think Ron had his strengths, but I think one of the weaknesses is that our brand has gotten stale. I think we need to be more inclusive with who we get in the program and we need to have Chicago be prominent once again with Illinois. We’ve lost a little bit of luster in Chicago with our brand and the athletic department. Now, we need to re-focus on getting Chicago excited again about Illinois athletics.”

Big Ten and in-state foe Northwestern has prioritized Chicago in its marketing efforts with the Evanston school proclaiming itself “Chicago’s Big Ten school” despite sporting a significantly smaller alumni base in the Chicago metropolitan area than Illinois.

“(Northwestern athletic director) Jim Phillips, you can’t knock him,” said Bardo, who played at Illinois when Phillips was a team manager for then-coach Lou Henson. “That’s a coup for Jim Phillips to be able to pull that marketing off because he jumped at it first. Competition is good, and Illinois needs to step it up.”

Guenther will retire after his current contract expires on June 30. The university initially planned to hire a replacement by July 1, but university president Michael Hogan told The News-Gazette that the hiring could be pushed back a month to allow a newly-hired chancellor to have input on the decision.

Bardo said Phillips would be “an excellent choice” for Illinois because he “bleeds orange and blue.”

Asked half-jokingly if he’d entertain becoming the next Illinois athletic director, Bardo gave a seemingly serious response.

“If they offered the job, I’d definitely listen,” Bardo said. “Anyone that loves the university and has as much passion for it as I do, they would listen to it. I would definitely listen, and I have my own ideas about what needs to be done.”

Listen to the entire interview with Bardo here.

Follow Jeremy Werner on Twitter @WernerConnectFM.