Freshman Richmond learning on the fly

Others expected Jereme Richmond to step in and dominate as a freshman at Illinois. Others thought he could possibly be a one-and-done player.

As far what Richmond expected out of his first college season? He wasn’t sure what to expect.

“You never know what your freshman year is going to be like,” Richmond said. “Some players like [North Carolina freshman] Harrison Barnes have more pressure than I do. Your freshman year is never what you expect.”

Heading into Wednesday’s Big Ten opener against Iowa, Richmond has already experienced plenty of highs and lows in his young college career. He’s scored on some of the nation’s best, and he’s had his shot thrown back at him by some of the best. He’s dominated at times and been a key to the Illini winning games and been a nonfactor in other games. He’s started and come off the bench.

As Richmond understands, it’s all a process.

“I’m patient,” said Richmond, who has averaged 7.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists in 21.6 minutes. “I haven’t been an NBA player for 18 years. I can wait a few more years. A lot of people have to wait for their time. My time is coming.”

One of the biggest adjustments Richmond, a McDonald’s All-American, had to make coming from high school was playing hard on every possession. In high school and in club basketball, Richmond could afford to take off the occasional possession, and it did nothing to hurt his team.

Richmond learned quickly this season that the college game is different in that respect. In just the opening few weeks, he saw how a possession here or there could decide a game’s outcome as the Illini’s matchups with Texas and Maryland came down to just a few plays.

“College basketball is different,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “There’s so much concentration needed on both ends of the court. It’s different. He’s learning to play. He’s learning to play a total different position. We need him to score in the perimeter, but he can get layups, too.

“We would like all of them to come along fast, but it’s usually around Christmas time that the lights go on. That’s what we’re hoping. If in the few two weeks we’re going to improve, we need the younger guys to step up.”

Richmond is up for the challenge. Part of the reason he chose Illinois was to play in the Big Ten, and now he gets that opportunity.

“I’m excited,” Richmond said. “I’ve always heard how competitive it is and how hard it is. I’m going to work hard every game and help us win the Big Ten. We have the talent. I’m ready to compete against the best in our conference.”