CHAMPAIGN — The talent was always there, even four years ago when Jereme Richmond was thrust into the spotlight as a lanky freshman at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka. As a 14-year-old with only one high school game under his belt, Richmond gave an oral commitment to Illinois coach Bruce Weber. But those growing pains for Richmond through his one year at Country Day and three seasons at Waukegan High School also left an impression.
CHAMPAIGN — The talent was always there, even four years ago when Jereme Richmond was thrust into the spotlight as a lanky freshman at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka. As a 14-year-old with only one high school game under his belt,
Richmond gave an oral commitment to Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
But those growing pains for Richmond through his one year at Country Day and three seasons at Waukegan High School also left an impression. Richmond was kicked off his high school team as a sophomore, and during his junior year his attitude rubbed people the wrong way at the state tournament. He also was briefly suspended as a Waukegan senior following a fight on the high school campus during the basketball season.
Named Mr. Basketball in Illinois last spring, Richmond enrolled at Illinois for summer school classes and began the individual workouts with the coaching staff three weeks ago. Everyone wondered if he would listen and follow the rules.
“I made it a point in my mind to show the coaches I’m not what everybody thinks I am,’’ Richmond said after a workout Monday. “I went through a rough growing stage. I still have growing to do. I wanted to show the guys I’m coachable and want to learn what they have to say to me.
“This is when it really matters. In hindsight, during high school I was looking forward to this moment to show these guys what I could do. That’s no excuse for anything I did wrong.’’
Thus far, Richmond has been a model citizen, Weber said.
“He’s been really good,’’ Weber said. “I don’t think talent and ability have ever been a question for anyone who watched him since the eighth grade. That was pretty obvious. It was how was he going to handle college, the academics, the social life, the normal freshman stuff.
“So far, he might be the most coachable guy we have. That’s not always what people heard. He’s been very good. You don’t want to say too much. There’s a long way to go . . . we’re only three weeks into it.’’
On the court, Richmond is such a skilled passer, ball-handler and rebounder that he can play four positions. Keeping the 6-foot-7, 205-pounder out of the starting lineup will be difficult. But it’s more than just making passes and grabbing rebounds.
Richmond received positive reviews from the coaching staff while earning a gold medal on the United States under-18 team in the Americas Championship in June, Weber said. Richmond said people thought he was “spontaneous’’ in high school. That might be putting it politely. At Illinois, Richmond set a goal of bringing a good attitude every day.
“To bring the best out each day, you have to bring the same attitude,’’ Richmond said. “(The fans) won’t see a different player. I still enjoy the game. They will see a different attitude, as far as having more fun. At the same time, I need to bring more focus. In high school, you could get by on talent. In college, everyone is so much bigger, stronger and smarter.’’
A decision made four years ago still sounds like the right one to Richmond.
“This is home away from home already,’’ Richmond said. “I’m comfortable. I’m happy with my decision.’’
Freshman guard Crandall Head is close to 100 percent after knee surgery a year ago, and Weber wants him to concentrate on defense to earn minutes. Freshman center Meyers Leonard needed stitches on a finger after a weight room accident, but there were no broken bones.
Freshman quarterback Miles Osei didn’t have a hint he would get into the 35-3 win over Southern Illinois on Saturday until quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm told him to warm up during the fourth quarter. Osei battled with freshman Chandler Whitmer during the preseason behind starter Nathan Scheelhaase, then took snaps late in the lopsided victory.
With receiver/quarterback Eddie McGee throwing two interceptions in three attempts against SIU before severely spraining his ankle, Osei is likely the backup when Illinois (1-1) hosts Northern Illinois (1-1) Saturday at Memorial Stadium (11 a.m., Big Ten Network). McGee is questionable for the game against NIU and spent Monday in the training room instead of the practice field.
“I’m just prepared if any freak thing happens,’’ said Osei, who chose Illinois despite the early commitment in his class from Whitmer.
In the same day, Illinois lost on the court and also lost the chance to end Penn State’s winning streak.
In a match played before 11,982 fans at the Devaney Center, Nebraska rallied from two sets down to beat Illinois in a five-set marathon Saturday. Illinois entered with the No. 3 national ranking. Nebraska was No. 7.
The Illini already played without star Laura DeBruler, who will likely return from mononeucleosis for the Big Ten opener against Penn State on Sept. 24. Michelle Bartsch, last week’s Big Ten defensive player of the week, suffered an ankle injury during the match and is expected to return to action this weekend.
Illinois (7-1) also learned that Penn State’s 109-match winning streak came to an end against Stanford on Saturday, but the Illini still can end Penn State’s 65-match winning streak in conference play. Stanford is ranked No. 1 nationally, followed by Penn State, Florida, Nebraska and Illinois.
In other news
No. 16 Illinois hosts the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational in men’s golf this weekend after winning the Wolf Run Invitational Sunday in surburban Indianapolis by 19 shots over Central Florida and Ball State. Illini senior Scott Langley, the reigning NCAA champ, and junior Luke Guthrie tied for third at one-under par. The Olympia Fields event includes reigning NCAA champ Augusta State, runner-up Oklahoma State and semifinalist Arizona State. . .llinois junior pitcher Corey Kimes was named to Baseball America’s list of Top 10 prospects from the Prospect League. Kimes went 5-1 with a 2.64 ERA for the Springfield Sliders, allowing 42 hits and 16 walks in 47 2/3 innings with 38 strikeouts.
John Supinie can be reached at 217-377-1977 and firstname.lastname@example.org.