By Roy & Harv Schmidt
After watching D.J. Richardson in four games at the NIKE Peach Jam, a few things immediately stand out. The first is that he has now established himself as the #1 player in Illinois from the class of 2009. But what jumps out at as even more is that after proving to be one of the most dominant players at Peach Jam, he has now clearly put himself into the mix as a worthy McDonald's All-American candidate and if we had to put money on it right now, we would bet that when the final ballots are turned in Richardson will undoubtedly be selected.
To begin with, Richardson picked the perfect event in which to take center stage. The Peach Jam is one of the most prestigious events that is held during the July evaluation period, and with the possible exception of the three shoe company events held in Las Vegas during the fourth week of July, no summer event sports more overall talent. Therefore, what is most impressive about Richardson's performance at Peach Jam is that he got it done against elite level competition.
Richardson was absolutely relentless in every game that he played in North Augusta, SC, as he led the Illinois Warriors to a perfect 5-0 record in pool play, including wins over talented teams such as Houston Hoops, Rising Stars Gold, Team Final and the South Carolina Ravens. Richardson took it upon himself to be the Warriors' go-to-guy and he responded in a big way.
Richardson finished pool play as the second leading scorer at Peach Jam. His best games were a 30 point outburst vs. Rising Stars Gold, a 23 point effort vs. Houston Hoops and tallying 21 points vs. Team Jones. He scored every which way imaginable. You name it and Richardson did it--he consistently hit difficult shots coming off the dribble, he spotted up and drilled 3-pointers and he converted most every time he took it to the rack. In the Rising Stars Gold contest, Richardson had a streak where he hit seven shots in a row and throughout the course of the game he simply couldn't be stopped.
Unfortunately, Richardson missed the Warriors' opening round playoff game vs. California Supreme because he had to leave North Augusta early in order to get back home to attend summer school. The Warriors-California Supreme matchup was a spectacular one, with California Supreme notching a 92-91 victory. Taking nothing away from California Supreme's effort, there is no doubt in our mind that had Richardson played in that game the Warriors would have continued on to the final day of action.
What makes Richardson special and what we believe sets him apart from most every other player in Illinois is his killer instinct. Simply put, he wants to stick a dagger in his opponent every time he takes the floor. This is evidenced by how he gives it everything that he has and never takes a play off. That is the biggest reason why he has now clearly established himself as the #1 player in Illinois from the class of 2009.
But now let's move on to the national level. Based on Richardson's performance at Peach Jam and the spectacular spring and summer that he has enjoyed on the traveling team circuit, we will be shocked if he doesn't rank among the top 25 players in the 2009 class nationally when revised rankings come out. We watched all of the other guards at Peach Jam who are ranked above Richardson, including Xavier Henry of Athletes First, Tommy Mason-Griffin of Houston Hoops and John Wall of the South Carolina Ravens, and while Richardson may not have outplayed any of them, in our minds he certainly proved that he is their equal.
Furthermore, respected national evaluators such as Bob Gibbons of ESPN Sports and Van Coleman of Hoopmasters were absolutely raving about Richardson's performance at Peach Jam and both made a point to watch him extensively. Seeing as though both Gibbons and Coleman are among the most influential people on the McDonald's selection committee, this cannot be underemphasized. The bottom line is that Richardson turned in the type of performance that people such as Gibbons and Coleman (as well as others) will most certainly remember when voting for the McDonald's game comes around in January and February.
If we are guilty of anything when it comes to evaluating Richardson it is that we have probably taken him for granted. We can assure everyone that will no longer be the case. Richardson's overall skill set has improved immensely, to the point where has virtually no offensive weaknesses in his game.
As we get set to head into the second half of the July evaluation period, the key for Richardson will now be maintaining the same level of consistency. Should Richardson follow up his effort at Peach Jam with another dazzling performance at the 17-under Super Showcase in Orlando which begins on July 23, we can practically guarantee that you will see him on the court when the McDonald's All-American game takes place next March.
Now that Richardson has emerged as the new #1 player in Illinois from the class of 2009, here is a sneak preview of what Illinois Prep Bulls-eye's top dozen players in the class could look like by the end of the July evaluation period.
2) Brandon Paul 6'3 2G Gurnee (Warren)
3) Chris Colvin 6'1 PG Chicago (Whitney Young)
4) Jack Cooley 6'9 PF Glenview (Glenbrook South)
5) Marcus Jordan 6'2 2G Chicago (Whitney Young)
6) Joseph Bertrand 6'4 2G Sterling (H.S.)
7) Darius Smith 6'2 PG Chicago (Marshall)
8) Diamond Taylor 6'3 2G Bolingbrook (H.S.)
9) Nik Garcia 6'6 2G Evanston (Township)
10) Dyricus Simms-Edwards 6'1 PG Washington (H.S.)
11) David Brown 6'3 2G Rockton (Hononegah)
12) Matt Vogrich 6'4 2G Lake Forest (H.S.)