By Joe Henricksen
Whether or not Jereme Richmond of Waukegan goes down as one of the all-time great players in Illinois state history is not up for debate -- at least not in this blog. This space is not going to be devoted to breaking down Richmond in comparison to recent all-timers Jon Scheyer and Derrick Rose or past legends Jamie Brandon or Isiah Thomas.
What Richmond certainly was and became over the course of his four years of high school was the most scrutinized player in Illinois state history. Yes, I know, he knows, we all know, Richmond brought on a lot of the scrutiny himself. He has acknowledged that. Nonetheless, the scrutiny came in waves, from serious issues that led to disciplinary action to some not-so-serious issues that resembled Ralph Malph's sometimes teen-aged immaturity on Happy Days or the antics of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. No player in history was watched more closely, played more under the microscope, partly because of his stature, partly because of his early commitment and partly because of this new age media (blogs, websites, etc.).
What you will read in this space is all of what Richmond is as a player. The Hoops Report has gotten this impression, maybe a feeling from fans and basketball observers, that Richmond is not held in as high regard as he maybe should. He's constantly picked apart. He should be celebrated, albeit for different reasons, just as others have been showered with praise before him. I've heard all the negatives. Believe me, I've heard them, even watched and witnessed a few myself, but again, this is about what he is as opposed to what he isn't.
We'll start with loyalty. I can't recall how many times fans have asked "Why don't the top players stay at home and play their college ball?" I was just on a Chicago radio show recently where the hosts asked that very same question. Sure, Illinois Fighting Illini fans obsess about it, but so too do others who simply want to continue watching their high school stars play their college ball close to home.
Richmond did just that, committing early, in November of his freshman year. And he stayed committed. There was no drama surrounding his recruitment -- at least from his side or perspective. There was no talk of a soft verbal or de-committing or re-committing or looking around to see what else was out there. He stayed committed, even when during his sophomore year Illinois struggled and plenty of people, including the media, tried planting the seed that it was only time before Richmond de-committed.
So for all you Illini fans and everyday college basketball fans that want their stars to stay close to home, appreciate it. Richmond stayed home. Julian Wright didn't. Sherron Collins didn't. Neither did Jon Scheyer or Derrick Rose or Evan Turner. He will be around and have a second chance to to grab the adoration of fans throughout this state, which he was never quite able to do as a prep star.
There is definitely quite a bit of fact and fiction as it relates to Richmond and his desire, attitude and competitiveness. Again, this is not about what Richmond doesn't do (i.e. run the floor hard all the time, control his on-court emotions, etc.). But just ask Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw how competitive Richmond is after the intensity Richmond brought to Ashlaw's practices. "He plays so cool sometimes that people don't realize he has a very competitive streak," Ashlaw told the Hoops Report recently. "That cool approach doesn't always translate into something that is visible when it comes to being competitive. I can't tell you how he elevated the intensity and competitiveness of so many of our practices."
What should not be questioned is his talent level. Richmond is different than many of the past stars we've watched come through this state. There are two things that strike you when watching Richmond over and over again during these four years of high school. First, his basketball I.Q. and understanding of the game is at an elite level. He understands and sees parts of the game others just don't. Second, his ability to impact a game in so many different ways is rarely seen this early in a player's career. Typically, different parts of a game come together in stages and it takes time; Richmond's was advanced early on. Those two attributes aren't eye-popping to the average fan, but they make him a complete player and one that makes whatever team he's playing for a better one.
Richmond also has the combination of being polished but still blessed with an enormous upside and untapped potential, both as a player and physically. He is still physically maturing. And with that added physical maturity will come even more explosiveness, along with weight and strength.
His skill level is awfully impressive for a player his size. People will see his ability to put it on the floor, find open players with his passing and vision and knock down mid-range jumpers. But look closely and you'll see a high school player with advanced footwork on the block, something you just don't see at the high school level, and the instincts and feel that put him one step ahead of others. He will not be Kevin Durant as a freshman, but his game has kind of always reminded the Hoops Report of Durantula.
When it comes to Illinois and his impact, we're not talking about a world-beating instant mega-star -- at least not right away. But his presence will be felt immediately, especially if Richmond's mind is in the proper place. He will instantly provide added depth and pure talent, something Illinois desperately needs. He will allow coach Bruce Weber to play different lineups and give opponents different looks. Offensively, Richmond will need to be accounted for by opponents while being able to make others around him better. His length and athleticism will provide a weakside presence defensively, blocking and altering shots while offensively becoming a badly-needed finisher around the rim.
But when considering he is the 2010 Hoops Report Player of the Year, Mr. Basketball Award winner and a McDonald's All-American who led his high school team to second and third-place finishes the last two years, it's still a little surprising Richmond is not more revered. There are many out there who argue against him rather than for him as far as his status, the type of player he is and where he falls in the Illinois high school basketball hierarchy. Erase a little of the past, forget the bumpy road and you'll see the superstar.