Jereme Richmond Finally A Fighting Illini

Jereme Richmond (Jack Lyman)

The time is finally drawing near. After four years waiting for his college debut, Illini freshman basketball player Jereme Richmond is on campus taking classes and working out with his new teammates. Committing as a high school freshman had its ups and downs, but the long wait is now a thing of the past.

Jereme Richmond has wanted to be a member of the Illinois basketball team for a long time. He is now on campus and doing what he loves to do. It has been a hectic but worthwhile time for him.

"It's been four years. Now I'm down here and I'm getting ready. I'm coming to workouts every day, going to class every day and taking care of business."

How is it going so far?

"It's a new experience for me. The transition from high school to college has been very busy, but it's been good at the same time. I've always been one of the guys they go to, but now I'm just trying to learn as much as I can to be ready for the season."

His summer arrival was delayed by his selection on the USA National 18 and Under team that won a gold medal in world games.

"Yeah, that was fun. I was playing with the best guys in the country. Competing for my country and winning was a good experience for me."

What did he learn from that experience?

"Just working hard. We had two-a-days, a lot of practices. We were working hard and competing every day, so having that attitude and taking lessons from the coaches here, I think that will help me a lot. (I learned about) game speed, competitiveness, and bringing that winning attitude every day to practice.

"I know that playing for my country was something that I was proud of. And then I can carry that same kind of pride to my school."

Richmond was asked whether he expects to be a starter for the 2010-11 Fighting Illini.

"I don't know. I think it's gonna depend on how it goes in practice. I go against Bill Cole every day. He's shooting lights out right now. I can't come in thinking I'm gonna start. I've got to produce in practice every day and do what coach wants me to do."

What does he need to do to find himself in the starting lineup come November?

"Just (being) tenacious offensively and defensively. I like to get after it. I don't think I do anything other guys can't do because everybody here is so good playing at this level. It comes down to how hard I want to work in practice. Staying after and getting up extra shots to show the coach I'm ready."

After being the star and team leader throughout high school, the last three years at Waukegan, Richmond has tempered his expectations for his freshman year of college.

"I just want to win ball games. Whatever the coaches see is the best lineup. On the USA team, I came off the bench. I took that role pretty well. I brought a lot of energy, played my position very well and with tenacity. Whatever Coach sees is the best lineup, that's what we'll go with."

Who is he turning to for leadership among the Illini players?

"Everybody. I ask guys every day how they want the ball, where they want the ball, what plays they're comfortable with, things like that. This is my first time playing with these guys, so I want to learn their games."

Richmond is capable of playing multiple positions. While his skill level allows him to play on the perimeter, he has experience playing inside throughout high school, and he also brought the ball up on occasion. Where does he see himself playing with the Illini?

"Maybe a big 2 or a versatile 3. I've talked to Coach Weber, and he says I might relieve some pressure off Demetri (McCamey) at the point sometimes. So it depends on my matchups. But whatever he sees is the best matchup for me, I'll do. I'm excited."

Part of college basketball is weight training. Illini players are allowed to work with strength and conditioning coach Jimmy Price this summer.

"I'm 206 pounds. I've gained four pounds in a little over a week. They've been working me pretty hard, and I'm excited for it. I need it.

"I haven't talked to Jimmy about a specific weight. But he just wants me to get the proper technique down so I won't strain any muscles. As long as I build definition and increase the strength of my body, I'll be okay."

It is a new experience for Richmond. How much weight training has he done previously?

"Minimal. Maybe pushups, but never like this. It's amazing the transition from high school to college. I'm ready for it. I need it."

Richmond's high school experience was unique in many ways. Perhaps the most unusual aspect was his decision to commit to Illinois after his first high school game. He discussed the experience of making an early commitment.

"(It was) very bittersweet. I got the process out of the way early so I wouldn't have to worry about too many things as far as recruiting. But at the same time, I was just anxious to get down here and put the uniform on and do the things I've got to do. So it was kind of bittersweet. But now this year I'm happy.

If he could do it over, would he do the same thing?

"I'd have done it the same exact way. I enjoyed my high school career. I enjoyed all the perks and all the ups and downs of being in the spotlight at an early age. So I'd do it all again the same way."

Richmond admits other young Illini recruiting prospects have inquired about his experience and whether it would be in their best interests to commit at a young age.

"Yeah, I don't want to give any particular names, but some guys have asked what it's like, the ups and downs and whether they should do it. I just tell them that everybody's situation is different. You can't base your experience off somebody else. They must go through the process how they see fit.

"I just tell them the microscope, and the level of intensity of everybody watching you can be magnified by a million times. Essentially, you can't be regular anymore. You have to be two to three years older than you really are. A lot of kids aren't ready for that. But like I say, everybody's experience is different."

Richmond has at times struggled with his maturation process, as one might expect. The early commitment might have helped him grow up.

"Definitely. A lot of things you do at an early age, you've got to tone it down and be more conscious of what you're doing around people and where you're at."

One thing is certain. The early notoriety gave him numerous media opportunities. He was relaxed and cordial as media crowded around him for this interview.

"I've had a lot of opportunity talking to the media, so I'm well prepared for it."

Richmond and Illinois head coach Bruce Weber have established a long-term relationship through the process.

"Very consistent. We don't pull any punches. We're very honest with each other, very open. There are specific things we communicate about, which a coach and player should."

As well as he is accepting the changes in his life, Richmond knows there are still things he must be prepared to encounter.

"The level of fatigue I might experience. It's a totally different level from high school to college. And getting off on my own, taking care of business instead of having my parents around, that will be the biggest transition for me."

At least, his basketball experiences have helped him get over any possible homesickness. And his family lives close enough to help during the transition.

"With high school and AAU we travel and have to be away from home. I can go home, and my parents can shoot down here. It's an easy ride for them."

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