How good are the five players who have committed to Illinois coach Bruce Weber?
Van Coleman of Hoopmasters.com has seen them all, some as many as five or six times against big-time competition. D.J. Richardson and Joe Bertrand rank among his top 70 in the junior class. Stan Simpson ranks No. 147 in the senior class. Jereme Richmond ranks among the top five sophomores in the country. And Brandon Paul is an unknown commodity.
Here is how Coleman sizes them up:
Richardson: He will be a top 50 player eventually. He saw the light go on last summer on what it will take to be that good. He started to show he can knock down a perimeter jummp shot. He is very versatile. He can get to the basket but he needs the outside shot to take him to another level. He can be another Deron Williams. Remember, Williams developed his outside shot after high school. Richardson has the physical tools to be the same type of player.
Bertrand: He is athletic, can shoot and can be a defensive stopper. He and Richardson are interchangeable pieces. He is long, very quick and has good bounce. He reminds me of former Wisconsin star Devon Harris.
Paul: He is an unknown, like Luther Head going into his junior year at Manley. He played with Dickie Simpkins' NLP squad last summer in Las Vegas. I knew he didn't play on the varsity last season. He isn't in the top 100 now but he has a lot of potential. He reminds me of Head. But he has a lot of makeup to do, a lot of development. He is smooth, big for a point guard at 6-3 but he needs to play.
Simpson: He is long, athletic, runs the floor well and blocks shots. He gives Illinois an athletic shot blocker, something I don't see in the other frontcourt players they have. He is 6-9 and weighs 220 pounds. But he can be a 240-pound athletic force around the hoop. He has the potential to be a top 100 player if he has a great senior year.
Richmond: As a sophomore, he is one of the top players I have seen. He isn't as good as guard Brandon Knight of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who led his 17-and-under team to the National AAU championship last summere, or 6-10, 240-pound Jeremy Tyler of Compton, Calif., or 6-8 DeShaun Thomas of Fort Wayne, Ind. But he has the potential to be a franchise player.
Last summer, Richmond played with kids who allowed him to drive, isolate, take defenders off the dribble, shoot 15-17 footers and take kids out of things defensively with his length. I see a lot of athleticism, an ability to score and a desire to be a winner. He wants to see his team succeed.
But it's tough to stay on top when you are rated so highly so early. Let's see how he continues to develop before his senior year. The move to Waukegan was good for him. It will allow him to play agaisnt better competition. But he must do things in the next two years that will allow him to stay at the top of his class--get stronger, attack the basket with both hands, work on his explosion and outside shot. He reminds me of Delvon Roe, the No. 7 player in the senior class, who has committed to Michigan State.
"Weber has recruited the right guys," Coleman summed up. "But if they don't have the desire to be better, it will kill any effort of a coach to make them better. Look at Dwyane Wade. He had desire, went to a coach in Tom Crean at Marquette who could teach him and he got better. It shows that you have to be motivated."