Weber’s recruiting woes continue with Richmond’s dimissal

By Jeremy Werner

Bruce Weber’s job has not been easy lately.

The Illini have lost 13 of 16 games and are headed towards their worst record since the 1974-75 season. The veteran players have failed to live up to expectations, and it looks like senior Brian Randle will be out the rest of the year with a shoulder injury.

As if that wasn’t enough, Weber learned Monday that Jereme Richmond, a highly-touted sophomore from Waukegan, Ill., who has given Illinois a verbal commitment, was kicked off his team following a second violation of the school’s athletic code of conduct.

Following an overtime loss to Loyola, Richmond had a heated confrontation, reportedly one of several, with Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw that led to Richmond’s dismissal from the team. Richmond also served a three-game suspension earlier in the season after fighting with a teammate at practice.

This is not exactly what Weber wanted to hear about possibly the most hyped recruit in Illinois history.

At 6-foot-6, Richmond is rated as the No. 4 sophomore in the nation by Scout.com. His actions at Waukegan suggest he knows it.

Personally, I was shocked upon hearing of Richmond’s dismissal from his high school team. I saw Richmond play at the Shootout at the Hall in December and was impressed not only with his play but also with his demeanor. As he talked to reporters, he sounded more like a seasoned NBA veteran than a 15-year-old, but sometimes we forget how young some of these recruits really are.

Richmond transferred after completing his freshman season at North Shore County Day in Winnetka, Ill., because his friends went to Waukegan High School. However, he was the lone bright spot on an otherwise average team. Richmond became frustrated because his coach used him in the post instead of on the wing, where he prefers to play. To be fair, the sophomore averaged 19.9 points a game, when he could easily average 30 a night.

But Richmond’s immense talent does not give the sophomore the privilege to tell his 38-year-old coach how to do his job. Ashlaw acted quickly and suitably by kicking him off the team, and hopefully it sent a message to the young Richmond that the world does not bend to his will.

Richmond could return to the team next season but is reportedly looking to transfer, which would make three schools in three years. Switching schools is not rare for blue-chip prospects, but it still sends out the message that Richmond is difficult to coach.

So what does this mean for Bruce Weber and Illinois?

Probably no more than a small headache.

Weber could not have taken the news of Richmond’s dismissal well, but he is the crowned jewel Weber has been looking for after years of disappointing recruiting classes. Taking away Richmond’s scholarship is unlikely and unwise. If he lives up to his verbal commitment, Richmond will give Illinois the star it has been sorely lacking since Dee Brown’s graduation, though the help will not arrive until the 2010-11 season.

The most Weber can do right now is counsel the young phenom and help him realize his mistake. Richmond is still a teenager and needs experiences like these to give him a reality check. All Illinois can do is hope that Richmond is humble by the time he comes to Champaign, where fans will be closely monitoring his final two years of high school ball.

Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]