By Joe Henricksen
Now that the frenzied Illinois coaching search has ended with the hiring of John Groce, and the Southern Illinois position has been filled with Barry Hinson, the lone Division I head coaching position still open in the state is Eastern Illinois.
The good news for the Ohio Valley Conference program is the fact there are several very solid candidates among the finalists for the job as athletic director Barbara Burke continues the interview process. But there may not be a better fit for the EIU job than current Xavier assistant Kareem Richardson.
Richardson, who interviewed late last week, was part of a Xavier program this past season that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Plus, he's had NCAA Tournament coaching experience as an assistant at Indiana State. In 2000, Richardson was part of a program that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Larry Bird era in the late 1970s. Then a year later he helped the Sycamores to another NCAA Tournament appearance, where Indiana State upset No. 4 seed Oklahoma in 2001.
But in addition to Richardson's NCAA Tournament coaching experience, maybe more important is the fact he has such strong Illinois ties, both locally as a star prep player and graduate of Rantoul High School, which is just 60 miles from the EIU campus in Charleston, and as a college assistant recruiting the state. Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college basketball program and Richardson has a tremendous familiarity with the recruiting landscape of Illinois and has established ties throughout the state.
Among several coaching stops in Division I, what has been so impressive with Richardson is the fact he's done the job in some tough-to-recruit-to college basketball outposts, such as Indiana State in Terre Haute, Ind., as well as Drake, which is located in Des Moines, Iowa and has some high academic standards.
At Indiana State, Richardson recruited David Moss of Thornwood, who went on to become the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and an all-MVC player who scored over 1,500 career points.
While at Drake, Richardson brought in a recruiting steal in Rayvonte Rice of Champaign Centennial, Drake's top player as a sophomore this past season and a future all-Missouri Valley Conference pick. He also brought in two other Illinois products in guards Karl Madison of Springfield and David Smith from Lake Forest Academy, two more key players for Drake coach Mark Phelps.
Richardson is much more than just a silver-tongued assistant coach. He was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference All-Academic selection as a player at Evansville. He's thrived in player development and is regarded as having a bright basketball mind and an ability to teach the game. He's experienced, extremely sharp, personable, polished and has made his presence felt recruiting the state of Illinois.
What sets Richardson apart is the fact he has successfully recruited the state of Illinois, including having a comfort level recruiting the city and suburbs of Chicago. Richardson was a part of the City/Suburban Hoops Report's "Super Six" assistants in 2010, which recognizes the top assistant coaches who have the best pulse for recruiting Illinois and who are most often mentioned by the players, their families and both high school and AAU coaches. Two former members of the "Super Six" have already landed head coaching jobs -- Brian Wardle at Wisconsin-Green Bay and Howard Moore at UIC.
Time will tell if Richardson will be able to utilize all those strong attributes as a head coach and be the third "Super Six" member to obtain a head job.
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