I don't profess to have enough expertise to criticize the passion and professionalism of a college football or basketball coach. But I have observed the game for more years than most critics who claim that privilege, the ones who once anointed Ron Zook, Ron Guenther and Bruce Weber for sainthood and now lead parades calling for their dismissals.
So I'll tackle a subject that is sacred to Illini Nation and wait for their anticipated scorn. They'll insist that I'm bashing Chief Illiniwek but, truthfully, this is just a forum for debate. It is too early to say I don't know what I'm talking about--the truth will be known to one and all by this time next year--but I thought it was time to give Orange-and-Blue loyalists something else to banter about.
The two-time Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year from Waukegan is being touted as the next great star at Illinois, the savior of Weber's program (or his successor's if the lunatic fringe of Illini Nation has its way), the pied piper who will lead Illinois back to the Final Four and maybe its first NCAA championship. Oh, happy day.
Well, I don't think so. Not yet. Not if what we have seen up to date is what we have to go by. Yes, he is a McDonald's All-American, one of the top 24 high school seniors in the nation. But is he ready to step in and be a difference-maker as a freshman in the Big 10? Was Evan Turner? Was Deron Williams? Was Brandon Paul, last year's Mr. Basketball in Illinois?
Jon Scheyer wasn't a difference-maker as a freshman, either. But Derrick Rose was. John Wall, too. And Magic Johnson. But I don't think anyone is putting Richmond in their class.
Richmond is a thin 6-7 perimeter player. In that regard, he will fit in nicely at Illinois, where all of Weber's "big men" from Mike Tisdale to Mike Davis to Bill Cole to Tyler Griffey prefer to face the basket rather than bang on the boards. Offensive rebound, anyone?
Before we get to attitude and maturity, flaws in Richmond's game that have been well documented from the time he was a freshman at North Shore Country Day until the most recent incident a couple of weeks ago, let's zero in on what he brings to the court:
Every objective observer agrees that Richmond needs to gain weight and muscle if he is to survive in the Big 10. He is an excellent passer, has good length, great versatility, tends to make players around him better and is unselfish. He also has a killer instinct that has surfaced from time to time--but not frequently.
But his shot--his dramatic half-court game-winner as a junior notwithstanding--is fair to middling. His mid-range shot is inconsistent and his three-pointer is mediocre at best, certainly not great recommendations for a perimeter player in the Big 10. Jay Shidler or Billy Harris or Jon Scheyer he isn't. Not at the moment. And his ball-handling on the perimeter, when matched against quicker Big 10 opponents, is questionable.
That's the physical and technical side. How about the mental aspect of his game? He still pouts from time to time and has issues with his coach and teammates when things aren't going as he thinks they should. In high school, he is protected by his friends. In college? It was interesting to note that his father was outraged when his son's latest temper tantrum was reported in the Chicago newspapers but Weber claimed he didn't know anything about it.
Joe Henricksen of City/Suburban Hoops Report agrees with some of my thoughts about Richmond. "Illinois lacks leadership and toughness, which is something Richmond will not bring. I don't think he's going to be National Freshman of the Year, like a Durant or Carmelo or Beasley. Those are special, special players. But I think he will be a big addition to a program that simply needs an influx of talent," he said.
But Henricksen has seen a lot of Richmond in the last three years, good and bad, and he is convinced the youngster will make a positive impact on the Illini program. He predicts a starting lineup with Demetri McCamey at point guard, D.J. Richardson at shooting guard, Richmond at small forward, Davis at power forward and Tisdale in the pivot with Paul as the sixth man and Cole and Meyers Leonard, another freshman whiz kid, coming off the bench. However, he agrees that Richmond must deal with his demons.
"He will have to deal with those maturity and attitude issues," Henricksen said."But he has been terrific when he's down in Champaign playing with Illinois players on weekends and during the offseason. He certainly has been a pampered baby and prima donna throughout his high school career. But he is extremely talented. The negative issues are legitimate. Despite some setbacks, he has progressed somewhat in those areas and has to progress more."
Henricksen doesn't believe Richmond alone will make Illinois a contender for the Big 10 title. He thinks Richmond will average 10-11 points and five rebounds per game as a freshman on a veteran squad that will finish in the top two or three in the conference and qualify for the Sweet Sixteen.
"Very few freshmen bring leadership. That's not expected," Henricksen said. "Richmond will create opportunities for others, some easier scoring opportunities because he will have to be accounted for. He gives them size, length on the wing and much more athleticism than Cole, who is playing close to 30 minutes a game.
"Illinois desperately needs players. They don't have a senior or sophomore on the roster who can play. So Richmond's presence alone is a bonus, someone else who can score, adds quality depth and allows Weber to mix and match and play different lineups.
"As long as Jereme's maturity continues to grow, if he immediately accepts discipline, criticism and the teaching he will receive, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be a difference-maker early in his career."
But Henricksen admits the mental part of his game will determine how big of a factor Richmond will be as a freshman. "When things go bad, get rocky, which they always do for freshmen, how will he handle those situations? That competitive spirit is inside him but it still doesn't surface quite as much as you would like or with as much consistency as you see from the type of difference-making star players of the past," he said.
Does Henricksen think Richmond will be a one-and-done player? Will he be ready for the NBA after his freshman year?
"No. But I certainly think he can be an impact freshman," Henricksen said.
Time will tell. Like this time next year.