By Dan Bernstein–

This is the risk you run when you recruit eighth-graders.

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You become one of the invested hangers-on you so often detest, telling a kid how great he is before the fact, and reinforcing his worst traits. You send the message that it’s ok to be a jerk.

Jereme Richmond has been every bit of that in his first season at Illinois — clashing repeatedly with players and coaches, taking an indifferent (ahem) approach to classes, and going AWOL at midseason for “personal reasons.”

He was held out of both of the Illini’s NCAA games for “violating athletic department rules,” which, according to reports, translates to “fighting a teammate in the locker room after losing to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.”

There’s a department rule against that? Who knew?

The way it works in postmodern college hoops, your Illinois Mr. Basketball should lead your team from the first practice. Your McDonald’s All-American is the reason you make a run to something meaningful in a down year for your conference. National top-25 recruits need to matter.

But when that guy is a spoiled, coddled baby, none of that happens.

Richmond’s high school history had more red flags than a socialist May Day rally. He committed to Illinois after playing his first game for North Shore Country Day in Winnetka, then transferred to Waukegan during his sophomore season. He was suspended from the team multiple times for insubordination, once kicked off the squad (but later reinstated, naturally) after a particularly heated argument with his coach.

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Why should he listen to anybody? He had the ride to Illinois locked up.

It was well-known, too, that he has been surrounded by family and friends who view him as a winning lotto ticket, starry-eyed with projections from pro scouts. The college experience itself is just another obligatory nuisance, anyway.

(Don’t think for a second that Bruce Weber didn’t use the carrot of a pro future to lure Richmond to Champaign, further feeding the beast. That’s 101-level stuff.)

If an NBA payday is in his future, though, Richmond’s path to it may continue circuitously, since there is at least a faction of university leadership that wants him gone. It says something when avuncular program-friend Loren Tate, on his podcast, addressed his future by starting with the words “If Richmond returns….”

The uncertainty surrounding Richmond is symbolic of what could be a tumultuous time for the team. The contract of Athletic Director Ron Guenther expires in July, and the lack of any extension is causing speculation that he will retire, or take a golden-parachute job elsewhere.

Weber’s future (and that of bumbling football underachiever Ron Zook) would then be decided by a new AD, who would never be begrudged the chance for his own hires. As it stands, Weber may have to sacrifice an assistant coach to appease the mob.

Troubled times for a program that may be best served parting ways with a troubled kid.

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Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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