Richmond, McCamey troubled talent for Illini’s Weber

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So Jereme Richmond’s uncle thinks NBA types are fools for not drafting his nephew, whom he considers “way better’ than No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving.

That said, the uncle, Crawford Richmond, believes Jereme should have stayed in school. But Illini assistant Jerrance Howard had told him so many times that he was a one-and-done talent that he took that high praise to heart.

Kudos to Chicago Tribune writer Chris Hine for getting Crawford to spout off. And compliments to the uncle for being–well, apparently candid.

But here’s what I think. . .

The No. 1 reason no NBA teams drafted Jereme is because he doesn’t have a jumpshot. You can maybe get away with that if you’re 7-feet tall. But not if you’re a perimeter player.

The No. 2 reason NBA teams looked the other way is Richmond clearly needed to leave Illinois for a variety of troubling reasons. He was under-achieving on the court. He wasn’t getting along with his teammates. And his uncle indicated that his schoolwork could have been better.

If a player is sensationally talented, pro organizations will be tempted to look the other way when there are psychological red flags. Richmond is not that talented.

If Richmond applies himself in the D league or overseas, he may yet reach his NBA goal. With his athleticism and basketball smarts, a little jumpshot and a lot of maturity could go a long way. But those are big `ifs’ at this point.

What’s not in question in my mind is the multitude of reasons Richmond left Champaign. The door was bumping him on the fanny big-time, even if the pros were hardly rolling out the red carpet.

Sadly, the reasons Richmond left raise some tough questions about Illinois basketball. Questions that go beyond Richmond.

No. 1, why didn’t Richmond, Bruce Weber’s first McDonald’s All-American, pan out? You would think Weber and his staff, who got their commitment from Richmond when he was a high school freshman, would have developed a better rapport after all those years of relationship-building.

No. 2, why is Weber, who seemingly has overcome his recruiting setbacks, having so much trouble meshing his players?

At least the uneasy four-year truce between the coach and his enigmatic point guard, Demetri McCamey, is over.

Weber repeatedly benched McCamey to light a fire under him. McCamey responded by bumping Weber on the bench, and giving Weber an earful–in front of the team, my sources say. If this stuff becomes a positive, fine. At Illinois, it didn’t. It undermined a coach’s control.

Rules for McCamey. Rules for Richmond. The other players notice these things.

No. 3, now that Weber’s recruiting drought has supposedly ended, why aren’t the Illini moving up in the world? Richmond is the most dramatic example of a good recruit gone bad. But a program that wants to believe it has perennial top-25 potential abounds with players who were expected to be doing more.

Guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul, who are halfway through their careers, both have shown flashes, but seemingly have bigger upsides than they’ve shown. Big men Tyler Griffey, another junior-to-be, and Meyers Leonard, who will be a sophomore, haven’t been that productive yet, either–partly due to limited playing time.

Either these players weren’t as good as advertised, which happens all the time. Or their coach hasn’t figured out how to put them in situations where they can excel consistently.

You can blame it on this. You can blame it on that. It all adds up to a program that’s a very unsatisfying 44-44 in the last five years in the Big Ten, a program that has won two NCAA tournament games over that span. Since Dee Brown and James Augustine left, if you’re keeping score at home.

Weber would be the first to tell you he expects better than that. And as Weber heads into his ninth season at Illinois, he needs to do better than that. He’ll try to succeed without Richmond and McCamey. They were his most difficult to handle players. They also were his most talented players.

Maybe that will be a good thing for Weber, who’s done his best work with players like Bill Cole and Mike Davis, who were not gimmes in the recruiting game.


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