This story appeared in the Chicago edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.
Jereme Richmond's 17th birthday didn't start out so well.
He could barely get out of bed in the morning as his temperature hit 103 degrees. If this was any other day, there's no doubt he would have stayed home from school. But in addition to being his birthday, March 13, 2009, was also the date of the Class 4A sectional final between his Waukegan (Waukegan, Ill.) squad and Warren (Gurnee, Ill.).
And if Richmond didn't go to class, he couldn't play in the biggest game of his young career.
"I knew he was really ill, but he had to go to school, so I told him his temperature was only 98 degrees," Richmond's father, Bill, says. "He said, 'Dad, I can't go.'"
That's when Bill brought out the heavy artillery.
"Michael Jordan did it in the NBA Finals," he said.
Richmond didn't need to hear anything else. Even though he was only 5 at the time, he knew all about MJ's famous 38-point performance in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals despite a serious case of the flu.
So the best player in Illinois, who today is rated the nation's No. 17 senior in the ESPNU 100, shook off the cobwebs and went to school. Once there, things didn't get much better. After fifth period (when Richmond had stayed long enough to be allowed to play that night), Waukegan's athletic director sent him home for the afternoon.
He took a nap and woke up around 5 p.m., ready to play a game.
* * *
Richmond has been getting national attention since his freshman year, when he played for North Shore Country Day. The level of competition wasn't high, and Richmond dominated. The spotlight got even hotter when he committed to Illinois during that year.
"Every game I played, there were people in the opposing crowd that had different signs saying 'You're on steroids' or 'Check his age,'" Richmond says.
Richmond enjoyed his time at North Shore, a private school where tuition runs more than $22,000 a year, but admitted there was substantial culture shock. So he transferred to Waukegan for his sophomore campaign.
Little did he know, the adjustments were just beginning.
* * *
Waukegan vs. Warren was billed as a battle of two Illinois-bound superstars. On one side, you had Richmond, the supremely talented 6-foot-7 swingman. Warren countered with guard Brandon Paul, arguably the state's top recruit from the Class of 2009. The only person who couldn't lose was Illini coach Bruce Weber, who within two years would have both standouts in his program.
Warren jumped out to an early 19-4 lead, stunning the home crowd into silence. In the second quarter, Waukegan rebounded with a 21-0 run to take the lead. It would be back-and-forth for the remainder of the contest.
With Waukegan leading 68-66, the Bulldogs fouled Paul on a 3-point attempt with 4.7 seconds remaining. Paul swished all three free throws, giving Warren a one-point lead. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, that also gave Richmond one last opportunity.
He took an inbounds pass and charged toward halfcourt, with one chance at glory.
* * *
When asked for a word to describe his sophomore year, Richmond diplomatically settles on "unique."
Adapting to Waukegan and coach Ron Ashlaw was a struggle from the start. Richmond didn't always channel his competitive fire in a positive way, resulting in shouting matches with his coach.
"I was thrust into a situation where I was coming to a brand-new school with all these expectations, and at only 15 years old I didn't know how to handle it," Richmond says.
"It was a transition for everybody," Ashlaw adds. "Some personality conflicts came to a head at the end of the season."
And when that happened, Richmond was kicked off the team for the final month. He could have taken the easy way out and transferred. Instead, he decided to stay at Waukegan and work on maturing into the player and leader everyone knew he could become.
"[Sophomore year] wasn't a good situation, but some good came out of it," Richmond says. "At the time, I was so young and na´ve to the fact I had to respect other people. I didn't understand what kind of influence I had on my teammates. In order for us to be successful, I had to start listening."
From the first day of practice as a junior, Richmond was a coach's dream.
"The biggest factor early on was the way he practiced," Ashlaw says. "He had that competitive fire and showed leadership. When we ran, he won all his sprints."
It was beginning to look like Waukegan could have a pretty special season.
* * *
Richmond reached halfcourt with more than two seconds left. He had time to take another dribble and get off a better shot. But Richmond takes 10 halfcourt shots each day during practice, so he pulled up just inside the midcourt line and let a jumper fly.
"Once it left my hands, I almost knew it was going in," he says.
The ball sailed through the net as time expired, setting off pandemonium at Waukegan, with the crowd storming the court and swarming Richmond and his teammates.
"In a moment like that, you don't feel anything," Richmond says. "I was just shocked. The crowd rushed me and my whole body just shut down."
Richmond finished with 31 points (including 15 in the fourth quarter and his team's last 11) and 10 rebounds.
To recap: 17th birthday. A 103-degree temperature. Halfcourt shot to win a sectional crown.
"It's historic," Ashlaw says. "However Jereme's career unfolds, and I think it will go to the highest levels, he's already created part of the legend that will always be with him."
The Bulldogs went on to lose in the state final to Whitney Young, but all anyone could talk about was Richmond's shot, which has been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube.
How did Richmond celebrate his instant classic? He went home, had a piece of birthday cake and fell fast asleep.
It had been a long day.