Never mind the scrutiny and pressure that came with committing to the Illinois basketball program four years ago as a freshman just one week into his first high school season. Illini freshman Jereme Richmond wouldn't have done it any other way.

Never mind the scrutiny and pressure that came with committing to the Illinois basketball program four years ago as a freshman just one week into his first high school season. Illini freshman Jereme Richmond wouldn't have done it any other way.

The attention and great expectations forced him to grow up quicker in a prep career that captivated fans with big plays but left others disappointed with questionable behavior. But when Richmond finally stepped onto the practice court at the Ubben Basketball Complex earlier this month as a member of the Illini roster, the reigning Mr. Basketball from Waukegan High School felt the early commitment prepared him for a bigger impact as a college rookie.

"I would have done it the exact same way,'' Richmond said Tuesday. "I loved my high school career. I enjoyed the perks, the ups and downs and the spotlight at an early age. There are guys that have asked me what it's like, and if they should (commit so early). I tell them the microscope and the level of intensity that everybody is watching is magnified by a million times.

"You can't be regular any more. You have to do things like you're two or three years older. A lot of kids aren't ready for that.''

While Richmond suffered through growing pains at Waukegan -- Richmond was kicked off the team as a sophomore and suspended briefly as a senior -- he brought a mature game to the Illini. After serving as a reserve earlier this summer on the U.S. team that won the Americas under-18 tournament to earn a gold medal, Richmond returned to Illinois, where he will compete with senior forward Bill Cole for a starting spot.

The 6-foot-7, 202-pound Richmond already gained 4 pounds in a little more than one week on campus with some weight training -- his first real experience in a weight room in his career.

Richmond sees himself as a big shooting guard or a versatile small forward. In high school, he showed off a heady game with the athleticism to make it work.

The starting lineup "depends on what happens in practice,'' Richmond said. "I go against Bill Cole every day (in open scrimmages). He's shooting lights out. I can't come in and think I'm going to start. I still have to produce in practice every day and do what the coaches want me to do.

"I don't do anything other guys can't do. The playing field is level. It comes down to how hard I want to work in practice, staying after to get some extra shots up and showing coach I'm ready. I just want to win ballgames. Whoever coach says, that's the best lineup.''

Richmond's talent already made an impression. He averaged 21 points, 11.4 rebounds and three blocks per game while leading Waukegan to third place in Class 4A last season. He helped the Bulldogs to a runner-up finish as a junior.

"He can do a number of things,'' said former Illini guard Trent Meacham, who played with the Illini on Tuesday. "He's so multi-talented. He can fit into different positions, guard different positions, handle the ball and pass. I don't think they need him to score 15 points a game.''

NOTES: Forward Roger Powell, a starter on the 2005 team that reached the NCAA title game, played with the Illini on Tuesday. He played professionally in Spain and France last winter before a collision broke bones in his face and ended his season. He and his wife are expecting their first child within a month. … Pekin native Derrick Burson stepped down as the media liaison with the Illini basketball team to move into the business side of the athletic department.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.