Jereme Richmond Ready For Official Debut

Jereme Richmond (Jack Lyman)

No one had a longer wait to don the Fighting Illini basketball uniform than Jereme Richmond. Committed to the state school since the beginning of his freshman basketball season, he is now finally ready to begin his Illini career. He seems able to handle the pressure of high expectations as he prepares for his first game Friday against Lewis.

For Jereme Richmond, the day has finally arrived when he can play basketball for Illinois. To say the least, he is thrilled the long wait is over.

"It feels great. It was a long time coming. Four years is a long time to wait for anything in life. To be able to represent my university, my family, my city and my teammates is something I'm looking forward to doing."

Like any rookie, he faces uncertainties Friday as the Illini take on Lewis in the first of two exhibition games leading to the regular season.

"It's very exciting. I don't know what to expect. It's something that I'm looking forward to. I don't know whether I'm gonna do good or do bad or be in the middle. I'm just ready to get started and get a feel for the game."

Expectations for the McDonald's All-American are likely over the top in some quarters. Some athletes can't handle the pressure and fail to live up to their press clippings. Richmond appears to be taking a more mature approach.

"I think hype is what you make it. Everyone has expectations of myself and this team. I believe if we work hard every day, then success will come with that."

The slender 6'-7" athlete had never worked out with weights before enrolling at Illinois for summer school. He is beginning to fill out.

"Today I weighed in at 209. I'm feeling great, it's just getting used to moving around with this extra weight. It takes a little toll on my body, but other than that I feel okay."

The versatile Richmond has the ability to play several positions on the floor. He admits to some limits, however.

"Maybe four. Not five because those five men are very physical, and I haven't grown that much since I've been here."

Illini coach Bruce Weber is uncertain how much responsibility to place on the Waukegan star's shoulders. But Richmond seems willing to do whatever is asked.

"Whether it be bringing the ball up and making good decisions from the point guard position, or whether it be running the wing at the 2 or 3 in the motion, or maybe even post up a smaller four man or smaller three. Those are things I'll try to do to the best of my ability."

Richmond has been a starter all his life, but he may need to come off the bench for awhile this season. Fortunately, he gained valuable experience while playing with USA basketball this summer. It helps him accept whatever role is asked of him, realizing he can be a key performer regardless.

"Definitely. I'm not used to it, so it gave me a different outlook, a different expectation of the game. I was used to starting and playing heavy minutes, but at USA, it gave me a different perspective on what it takes to be a good teammate.

"I know at times in games I might not play heavy minutes, or I might not start. But I think the USA experience really prepped me to be okay with that and play my part."

Richmond has developed a keen court awareness that can help the Illini. At times, he sees things even the seniors might not see. He feels comfortable offering suggestions when needed, serving as a team leader.

"I do. Sometimes it's hard because you don't want to step on anybody's toes. The seniors obviously know more than I know coming in as a freshman. So you want to be competitive while at the same time kind of be a sponge and take in what they say also."

He agrees that he, Meyers Leonard and Crandall Head have a great deal of talent and athleticism to add to the Illini team. But he thinks another trait is even more important.

"Yeah, a lot of talent. But I think the thing we bring to the table is a competitive spirit. Crandall is very competitive, athletic. People don't understand about Meyers that he's fiery. He brings the best out of Tizzie (Mike Tisdale) every day in practice. I try to do the same thing with Mike Davis and Bill Cole. I think our competitive nature will bring out the best in everybody this year."

Richmond visited campus frequently while in high school, for practices and games. From that observation, he believes the 2010-11 Fighting Illini have an added dimension over previous years.

"I'm seeing a different sense of urgency this year. Last year I came, and it wasn't like they were that competitive. We had Demetri (McCamey) who would dominate, Mike Davis and Tisdale would dominate.

"But this year everyone is competing across the board. D.J. (Richardson) against Crandall, Joseph (Bertrand) against me, it's competitive. I think that's gonna help us out this year."

Richmond may not be a double digit scorer for the Illini as a freshman. But combining scoring with assists, rebounds, steals and solid defense will likely make him one of the most important members of what might be a championship-level team.

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