Wisch: The Curious Case Of Jereme Richmond

By Dave Wischnowsky–-

Sometimes, it was his jump shot. Oftentimes, it was his attitude. And, looking back now, it was almost always his expectations – both those that he had for himself, and those that his fans thrust upon him.

But, no matter the circumstances, setting or situation, even when Jereme Richmond was on, something always seemed just off.

Last Tuesday, after news broke that the University of Illinois’ long-time-recruit-turned-short-time-player, was bolting college after just one season, I was asked by many friends what my thoughts were about the situation. And, today, one week removed from Richmond’s unexpected (but not really) announcement, they remain the same.

I’m disappointed that after waiting so long to see him in orange, Jereme Richmond went and blew off college so soon. But at the same time, I won’t really miss him.

The guy just never gave me a good reason to.

Five years ago, during the second game of his high school career, a 14-year-old Richmond introduced himself to Illini Nation by tallying 31 points, 13 rebounds…and a technical foul for slapping a backboard.

Last month, during the final game of his college career, a 19-year-old Richmond said goodbye without even leaving Illinois’ bench because he had been suspended for the NCAA Tournament due to the violation of athletic department rules.

For five long seasons, hoops fans throughout the Land of Lincoln watched Jereme Richmond age, but like some kind of basketball version of Benjamin Button, we never saw him mature.

I suppose you can call his saga – and ours – “The Curious Case of Jereme Richmond.” But whatever you want to call his star-crossed amateur career, just don’t call it a surprise. That’s because Richmond showed us his true colors long ago – and for a long time – even if a wishful Illinois fandom always wanted to believe otherwise.
Way back in November 2006, when Richmond became the first high school freshman to ever commit to the University of Illinois, hype soon followed.

“You don’t want to say LeBron James, but you don’t know,” Dan Powers, who coached Richmond during his freshman year at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, said about his phenom even though Richmond at the time had played only a handful of varsity games against poor competition.

“He’s got the same type of body as LeBron,” Powers continued. “I think he’s actually bigger than LeBron was as a freshman. I watched KG (Kevin Garnett) and Ronnie Fields when they were playing together. He’s definitely got that kind of ability. A kid his age shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing.”

Illinois fans wanted to believe in those lofty projections, of course. Heck, everyone wanted to believe in the Jereme Richmond hype, it seemed – including, I’d say, Jereme Richmond. And so, most everyone did – including, I’d say, Jereme Richmond – even if the caution signs around him began popping up early. And then often.

In December ’06, Richmond’s mother was asked by the Champaign News-Gazette if Jereme planned to spend his entire prep career at the tiny North Shore Country Day.

“I’m sure he will,” Kim Richmond said. “There’s no reason for him not to. He likes it there. We like it there. At this point I don’t think there will be any reason (to change schools).”

Within six months, Richmond had transferred to Waukegan High School in the first instance of what would become the trademark unpredictability – some would say, instability – of his hoops career.

During his three years at Waukegan, Richmond had numerous high-profile run-ins with his coach and classmates. He was kicked off the team following his sophomore season. During his senior season, he was suspended for fighting. But, still, many wanted to believe that things with Richmond could change with a change in scenery. I did too.

From July 2005 to July 2007, I worked as a Metro reporter for the Chicago Tribune and spent much of that time covering Lake County. Regularly, I made trips up to Waukegan for assignments, visiting the county courthouse and elsewhere. During that time, I got to know Richmond’s hometown fairly well and it’s a tough city, as well as a challenging place to grow up.

Because of that I always took Richmond’s prep troubles with a grain of salt. From his fights to his suspensions to his attitude issues, I thought that perhaps they were a product of a difficult environment, rather than a product of Richmond himself. I wanted to give the kid the benefit of the doubt.

But I was wrong. Because, during an erratic freshman campaign at Illinois that featured three mysterious DNPs, a fight with a teammate and countless other questions that likely will never be answered in public, Jereme
Richmond clearly showed us that his problem wasn’t Waukegan.

More likely, it was Jereme Richmond.

During his high school career, I saw Richmond play just once in person. That was during his junior year at the 2009 Class 4A Super-Sectional when he led Waukegan to a dominating 68-46 victory over Glenbrook North with 16 points and 13 rebounds despite often seeming content to stand in a corner and watch his teammates play.
With so much hoopla surrounding Illinois’ prized recruit, I came to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates that evening expecting to see something great, but what I saw instead was something merely good.

And after a freshman season at Illinois in which Richmond averaged a solid-but-unspectacular 7.6 points and five rebounds, that’s still about the best I can say about him as a basketball player.

He’s good. But he isn’t great. Certainly not yet, and perhaps not ever.

As an Illinois prep, Richmond wasn’t a great athlete like Derrick Rose. He wasn’t a great winner like Sergio McClain. And he wasn’t, well, just great like Kevin Garnett. He was good. Often, very good.

But as an Illini, Richmond wasn’t even as good as other freshmen in the Big Ten, let alone the nation. His shots last season seemed to get blocked an inordinate amount of the time. He showed no range on his jumper. And his ball-handling and passing was so-so.

Richmond certainly didn’t dazzle enough to leave Illinois after one season. But, nevertheless, that’s exactly what he’s done – whether it’s off to the NBA for him or off to another destination TBD.

Richmond’s eye-blink of a career will surely go down as one of the most disappointing in the annals of Illini history. And last week, when the Star That Never Was had announced he was leaving Illinois prematurely, one of my friends wrote on my Facebook wall: “Jereme Richmond, we hardly knew ye.”

But, really, I think we always did.

It was more a question of, did anyone ever want to believe it?

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: The Curious Case Of Jereme Richmond

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Delighted to see your by-line again, Dave.
    Welcome back.

    2nd Round at best, D-League or Europe.
    He will be what might have been but never was.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Thanks, much, Arse. Hoping to get some other blog entries pulled together this week. My schedule the past month and this one has just been crazy with travel. Too much travel.

    In any case, yes, Richmond’s story indeed is a disappointing one. I can’t see any way in which him leaving after one year is a good one for his basketball future. He’s far from NBA ready. The problem is, though, I also can’t see any way that Richmond staying at Illinois was going to work for the future, either. Just a bad situation all around — and one that will probably end up leaving both parties on the short end of the stick.

    Some people think Richmond will be a late first-round pick, but I just can’t see it. He lacks a reliable jump shot and doesn’t yet have the strength to play down low. Throw in the maturity issues, and I have a difficult time imagining an NBA team handing him a guaranteed contract. We’ll see …

  • Danny McCoy

    Just remember, your greatest success will be less than his greatest failure. or something.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Ah, sometimes (a lot of times?) Twitter allows us a little too much (way too much?) access to athletes’ minds, doesn’t it, Danny?

  • Darius (Chicago)

    Great insight and well-written, Dave. As an Illini-alum and life-long fan, I enjoyed that read almost as much as I hated this year’s team.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Thanks, much, Darius. If nothing else, Illinois basketball is interesting, I suppose — even if it often seems to be for all the wrong reasons these days.

  • Dean

    Great article, but the case of Jereme Richmond really isn’t curious. It would have been more curious if he had actually stayed and been successful as his past showed this was very unlikely to happen. However, I am somewhat surprised it happened in only one year.

    The most unfortunate thing for Jereme and his handlers is they apparently don’t know the NBA draft doesn’t have a fourth round.

  • Dave

    Reminds me a little like Marcus Liberty, all the hype but not much substance.

  • bigtenhoopsfan

    enjoyed the article, it was about time someone wrote what the kid really was. too bad this year’s team had to endure this drama, with a great group of seniors and leadership, selfish behavior disrupted the prospects of the Illini winning the Big Ten and getting deep into the NCAA. how many many HS and AAU games did we witness talking down to his team mates and yelling at times, remember saying to my son years ago, “what a head case and too bad Bruce Weber, a fine gentleman, who would have to put up with this kid in the future”. back in his HS frosh year, north shore played Hebron HS someone spit on the ref, too bad the kid from Peoria ND announced Michigan before JR quit Illini.

  • Kaddy

    Opinions are just like birthdays! You only know what you think you see. There are 2 sides to every story. Clean your own life and issues before attacking a child, a phenom; something I am sure none of you were ever identified as. Lets have this discush in 90 days when the proof with be in what the GM’s and scouts see, not past time want to be critics!

  • CC

    Everyone has a right to follow their dreams. Jereme is following his. I’m sure if I looked at all of your histories from the time you were 14 thru college the story that I could write wouldn’t highlight you as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. You have no idea what these young athletes have riding on their shoulders to be successful for themselves and their families. Hell as adults most of us can’t handle the same thing..adults drink, act out, make knee jerk decisions, etc… and we expect that they are ALREADY mature. At 19 you carry the weight these young athletes carry and lets see how you do and give all of us the opportunity to write about it.

  • plooger

    > Five years ago, during the second game of his high school career, a 14-year-old Richmond introduced himself to Illini Nation by tallying 31 points, 13 rebounds…and a technical foul for slapping a backboard.

    heh, I knew that seemed familiar as I read it.

    Not that your “failed to mature (i.e. learn from mistakes)” premise needed corroboration (or that this tidbit suffices on that front) but here ya go…

    link: http://www.illinihq.com/news/mens_basketball/2011/03/05/live_from_illinois-indiana/

    From 3/5/2011 IU at UI game: Klee: Jereme Richmond got a technical foul for slapping the backboard. That is his third technical on the season. He knew it right away, hitting his chest and saying, “My bad.”

    Somewhat ironically, this backboard-slap technical symmetrically bookends his earlier technical in high school, coming in the second to last game in which he *played* for the O&B.

  • joseph banks

    Dave Wischnowsky–

    Its pretty ignorant to make an assumption that Waukegan is a tough city and a challenge to grow up in from visiting the court house. That is in fact a court house that governs the entire Lake County; not just Waukegan residents.

    To make any mention of Jereme’s environment to seem as a correlation with or between Jereme’s personal dilemmas is a farce. You simply put that in there to get the readers attention.

    In turn I say that you are a narrow minded, naive, uninformed “beat writer” a product of your up bringing in Bourbonais. But oops let me retract as you did about JEreme.. its not his environment its you as a person!

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