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.
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.