Welp, I didn’t see this one coming (although I guess I should have).
Just last week, Illinois coach Bruce Weber said that he expected suspended forward Jereme Richmond to return to the team next season. Today, those words were proven wrong.
In a sudden turn of events, Richmond announced that he would be leaving Illinois after one season and declaring for the NBA Draft. He is currently working out in Chicago and in the process of hiring an agent.
Richmond came to Illinois with a lot of fanfare as he was the first McDonald’s All American to come to Champaign since Dee Brown. He committed his freshman year of high school and Illini fans had been pining for his arrival since then. However, his freshman season at Illinois turned into a roller coaster ride. He showed flashes of brilliance, but also had games where he was invisible and made boneheaded plays. He ended up averaging 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 31 games.
But the real issues were off the court. Early in the season, Richmond missed a game for personal reasons. There was speculation that he would leave the program after that, but he came back. Then there was the NCAA Tournament suspension for violating athletic code. We still don’t know what exactly the violation was, but I have my guesses (more on that later).
Richmond’s decision to enter the draft is pretty surprising (and to me personally, idiotic), as I don’t think he’s ready for the NBA at all. While his length and athleticism will likely have scouts drooling, his overall game still needs A LOT of improvement. His jump shot needs work and he needs to get much stronger. He also needs to work on his ball handling and decision making. Then there’s all the off the court issues. Despite these concerns, ESPN’s Chad Ford has Richmond ranked as the 45th best prospect in 2011 and sees him as a “bubble first rounder.”
Now, many guys won’t declare after one season if they are seen as a “bubble first rounder.” Many would stay in school and work on their games to improve their stock. Richmond would have been a major player for Illinois next season, and could have turned himself into a lottery pick. Even if he didn’t want to stay at Illinois, he could have transferred somewhere else (although that would have meant sitting out a year). The fact that he declared now shows that there’s something else going on here.
From what I’ve read and heard, it sounds like Richmond had zero interest in the “student” part of “student athlete.” Missing class seemed to be the norm for him, and I would venture a guess that this played a part in his suspension. Although Weber appeared to give him a chance to return, Richmond wanted none of it. The idea of going to class and staying eligible just wasn’t in the cards. This would also explain why he wouldn’t transfer anywhere. He just wants to move on and make his paycheck. While that is fine, I think he’s in for a rude awakening.
So what does this mean for Illinois? On the surface, it appears that this leaves a huge void. As I mentioned before, Richmond was going to be relied on heavily next season. The frontcourt depth takes a major hit and his versatility will certainly be missed. Others, and especially the incoming freshmen, will have to step up in his place.
However, I think that this decision may be the best for Illinois. Richmond proved to be a cancer and distraction, and that kind of nonsense isn’t needed around a college basketball program. It’s obvious that he has major attitude issues that weren’t likely to change in the near future. These problems were red flagged in high school, but most were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. We all hoped that he would mature when he got to college. It’s a real shame that we were all wrong.
Finally, this is another strike against Weber. While I don’t think much of this is his fault, it still looks really bad. He finally lands a big time player in Richmond, but he ends up being a complete whackjob. Weber has had some real bad luck at Illinois, but he can’t make excuses. He’s going to have to suck it up, coach his butt off, and win some games.
About the Author
Written by Jason Patt
My name is Jason Patt and I recently graduated from the University of Illinois. I received a degree in Sports Management and also minored in Communication and Business. I am an avid follower of Illinois sports and also most major Chicago sports teams. Along with blogging about Illini basketball here, I'm an editor at Bulls 101.