After missing the game against Wisconsin on Jan. 15 after returning to his Waukegan home with personal issues, Jereme Richmond returned to produce two of the best games of his career -- 14 points and five rebounds in the 71-62 win over Michigan State, then finished with his first double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the 73-68 loss to top-ranked Ohio State.
That thin, dark line across his upper lip is the first try at a mustache for Illinois freshman forward Jereme Richmond, who thanked someone for noticing Tuesday.
"I'm proud of it,'' said Richmond, his mustache a reminder of just how young he is.
After missing the game against Wisconsin on Jan. 15 after returning to his Waukegan home with personal issues, Richmond returned to produce two of the best games of his career -- 14 points and five rebounds in the 71-62 win over Michigan State, then finished with his first double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the 73-68 loss to top-ranked Ohio State.
"He had to get the trust back of everybody,'' Weber said. "We've all been very positive and patient and supportive. He wanted to show that, hey, he's here. He made a commitment to it. He wanted to play well.
"A lot of things go through their heads. It takes awhile. You have to get a lot of stuff out of there. Now it's a combination of starting to feel better about himself, and it all kind of worked out.''
When No. 20 Illinois (14-6 overall, 4-3 in the Big Ten) plays at Indiana (10-10, 1-6) on Thursday (8 p.m., BTN), Richmond rides a hot streak. He was 15-for-20 from the floor during the two games last week.
Meanwhile, reigning Big Ten freshman of the year D.J. Richardson has cooled off. He's 3-for-19 over the last four games.
"I was feeding off people saying that I wanted to leave and not being happy,'' Richmond said. "I wanted to make it a point to throw all those rumors out and show people I'm here, ready to learn and get better. I'm having a great time. I couldn't ask for a better coaching staff.''
The gold medal won last summer with USA basketball sits in his dorm room, but Richmond appeared more concerned with growing his game. He's required to play defense for the first time in his career. He will also attempt to expand his shooting range in the offseason.
"He can become a better shooter,'' Weber said. "It's not a natural thing. He's not shot it that much on the perimeter. When he catches it, the first instinct is to drive the basket, shot fake and drive. He passes up opportunities when he has an open shot. His mechanics aren't perfect, but he put in a lot of time in the fall.
"He's made a lot of strides (defensively). He's not very good off the ball. He never chased guys on the perimeter. Early in the year, he's point and tell somebody else to get him. He might be a little late now, but he's chasing people.''
Richmond already showed an ability to finish around the basket.
"(Weber) said I'm very efficient on the block,'' Richmond said. "If I can extend my range and make defenses scheme a little different that just stopping me down low, he's right.''
Big Ten defenses have made life harder for Richardson, who saw his minutes trimmed to 25 against Ohio State, five below his average. A valuable defender, Richardson can help in other ways besides scoring, Weber said, and the former Peoria Central star has a target on his back.
"To me, the biggest problem isn't that he's missing shots,'' Weber said. "He's not working hard enough to get open shots. We're not helping him get open, but he's got to cut harder, set up cuts and run harder.
"With anybody, if you're not playing well over a period of time, your minutes get cut. If (a slump) is prolonged -- I hope not -- you've got to go with somebody else. We don't have 82 games like the NBA to let somebody come back. We've got to win games right now. That's the tough part of it.''
Since scoring 17 points on 5-for-7 shooing from the 3-point line in the Big Ten opener at Iowa, Richardson has only one double-figure game.
"Everytime I turn around, there's a guy in my face, a hand in my face,'' Richardson said. "When I cross halfcourt, it feels like the guy is right on me.''
Richardson will work harder to call for screens from the big men and communicate better on offense, he said.
"If I was playuing like this and we're winning, I'd be happy,'' he said.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.