CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- What don’t we want instant anymore?
Instate messages. Instant coffee. Instant weight loss. If a product doesn’t have the word instant in it, it’s usually not worth purchasing. I can remember when it used to take 30 seconds to load an internet page. Now if it takes longer than a few moments, we worry something is wrong.
College basketball has become no different. Where once it was about bringing in a talented player, nurturing him, developing him then watching him succeed in a few years time, it’s now become about recruiting that same talent and expecting him to grandly produce beginning with the opening tip. The thought is if you’re a McDonald’s All-American, you should have a chance at being a college All-American.
The thing is not every freshman is an instant star like Derrick Rose, John Wall or current freshman sensation Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger (by the way, whoa, was he good on Saturday in a 73-68 win over Illinois). Most are like North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes or Illinois’ Jereme Richmond. They’re more like microwave popcorn. They’ll come out how you want them, but they need a few minutes to pop.
When I spoke with Richmond a month ago and asked about that pressure on him to excel quickly, he emphasized it was all about being patient. He was sure his time was coming, but he and everyone else had to wait for it.
Well, that wait finally appears to be over.
It took Richmond half of his first season in Champaign, but he’s beginning to pop. Following a career-best 14 points and five rebounds in a win over Michigan State, Richmond took his game to an even higher level Saturday and was the reason the Illini had a chance against No. 1 Ohio State despite Demetri McCamey having his worst game of the season. Richmond scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Illinois’ 73-68 loss.
Outside of the numbers, Richmond has also regained his swagger. What partly made him so dominant and the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year at Waukegan High School was he always thought like he was the best player on the floor then he acted like it. Against Ohio State, he posted up strong. He called for the ball. He was often the one who spoke up in huddles. He even had that star player’s reaction – “Who me?” -- when a foul was called on him.
“He’s letting loose and playing,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
Illinois senior Mike Davis saw the difference, too.
“He’s more confident,” Davis said. “He’s demanding the ball, asking for the ball. He’s taking his time in the post. He has smaller guys on him, and that’s what he’s got to do, just take his time and go and score.”
Former Ohio State star and current Philadelphia 76ers rookie Evan Turner was just as impressed. He had tuned into Saturday’s game to watch his Buckeyes face his good friend McCamey, and he came away with a strong impression of Richmond.
“I think he’s really good,” Turner said. “He has a good body for a frosh, and he is really versatile. He’s going to get better and better as times goes on. He’s going to be a great player if he keeps developing his skills.”
Coincidentally, Richmond’s high school coach Ron Ashlaw was attending his first Illinois’ game of the season on Saturday. He had watched Richmond play on television but hadn’t seen him in person.
Ashlaw wasn’t surprised by Richmond’s slow start to his career.
“The basketball world has unreal expectations,” Ashlaw said. “I think he’s going to be a great player out here, and it’s starting to show up. [Today], it was like what he did for us. One possession he was the point guard and bringing the ball up. Another possession he’s posting someone up and is inches from the rim. He’s just so versatile.”
Richmond was less talkative about his own play afterward.
“I’m just kind of mad we lost right now,” Richmond said. “My comfort level has nothing to do with my focus in practice, my focus in ballgames. I’ll be OK. My teammates will be OK. We just got to get some more victories.”
With Richmond’s recent emergence, Illinois should be headed to more wins. The Illini’s problem this season has been their inconsistency outside of McCamey. Davis, Mike Tisdale, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson have all had their nights, but they haven’t had them on a regular basis.
Richmond could be that missing piece to the season’s puzzle … just as everyone thought he would be.