By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Bruce Weber just got back from a 10-day tour of Italy with his basketball team. Jereme Richmond, meanwhile, recently got done with a four-night stint in the Lake County Jail with well, a bunch of guys I likely want to know nothing about.
But now that they’re both roaming free again in the Land of Lincoln, what I’m wondering is if Weber, the University of Illinois head men’s basketball coach, will simply say “Ciao” to his former player, or if he’ll reach out and try to help Richmond get on the right life path.
The way he’s done before with wayward Illini youth.
On Aug. 8, the 19-year-old Richmond, who left Illinois last spring after just one season in Champaign, was arrested on a slew of felony counts after allegedly assaulting a 17-year-old ex-girlfriend. It was the latest disturbing twist in an erratic pattern of behavior for the 2010 Illinois Mr. Basketball, who was released on bond on Aug. 12.
Earlier this month in a radio interview, former Illinois standout and current ESPN broadcaster Stephen Bardo expressed an opinion about Richmond that, of late, an increasing number of people have begun to share. Referring to his unpredictable mood swings, Bardo twice spoke of “bipolar tendencies … that haven’t been addressed.”
Writing about Richmond, Champaign News-Gazette columnist Loren Tate also quoted Joe Henrickson of City/Suburban Hoops as saying, “these issues have been ongoing for years and have become progressively more severe.”
Now, as to whether Richmond is bipolar or not, I can hardly say. But, viewing everything as an armchair psychiatrist, much of his behavior does appear to speak to a larger issue. And at the very least, I do hope his mental state has been or is being assessed.
In light of Richmond’s struggles, it also will be interesting to see what role Bruce Weber might play in his life going forward.
Weber has a history of sticking by troubled players and trying to help them get on the straight and narrow path. For example, when former Illini star Luther Head was dealing with myriad legal troubles and missteps – including burglary charges – during his junior season in 2004, Weber disciplined him, but stuck by him.
Thanks in large part to his coach’s support, Head got his act together and ultimately went on the help lead the Illini to the NCAA championship game and become the 24th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft.
A couple of years later, Weber also stood by Illinois sophomore Jamar Smith following a DUI accident during a Champaign snowstorm in which Smith’s Illini teammate Brian Carlwell was badly injured.
That decision came back to bite Weber later on when the Illini guard was again arrested for an alcohol-related charge while he was redshirting his junior season. Smith ultimately was dismissed from the team and began treatment for alcoholism.
Now, Weber took a lot of heat for supporting Smith, but I always believed it was the right move. Everyone deserves a second chance, even if they end up failing at it. What Smith didn’t deserve was a third – not at Illinois, at least – and he didn’t get one, as Weber sent him on his way.
Since leaving Champaign and the Illini program, however, Weber and his staff remained in close contact with Smith, who went on to clean himself up, excel on the court at Division II Southern Indiana and play in the NBA Developmental League. Just recently, Smith signed a contract to play basketball overseas in the Czech Republic.
Jamar Smith is a prime example of someone bottoming out and ultimately bouncing back. Now, whether Jereme Richmond can follow a similar route remains to be seen. Let’s hope that his arrest this summer is indeed rock bottom for him.
Unfortunately for Richmond, however, he left school completely and may have burned all his bridges in Champaign. So, I don’t know how much influence Weber will have in his life, how much Weber would want to have or how much Richmond would even be willing to accept.
Beyond that, I don’t know that Weber should at all consider Richmond his responsibility after everything that transpired last season and the summer. But with all his troubles, Richmond could certainly use some guidance from someone who’s guided troubled hoops prodigies before.
Should Bruce Weber feel an obligation to still be that guy?
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. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.