CHICAGO -- Jereme Richmond has been quiet since announcing earlier this month he was leaving Illinois after one season to enter the NBA draft.
Richmond has been putting all his time and effort toward preparing for the NBA draft since definitively opting not to return to Illinois for another season on April 5. Richmond has left school permanently, moved back home with his family in Waukegan, Ill., and has been commuting six days a week to Chicago’s West Side to work out nearly eight hours a day with Tim Grover and his personnel at ATTACK Athletics.
On Wednesday afternoon, Richmond spent two hours on the court with projected top-5 pick Enes Kanter, Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, Michigan State’s Durrell Summers, UIC’s Paul Davis and Robert Morris’ Da’Veed Dildy.
“There’s definitely a lot more attention to detail,” Richmond said of the workouts during his first interview since declaring for the draft. “You think you’re working hard on one level, but you get to this professional level, and you got to take everything serious and go as hard as you. These guys do a good job of making sure we understand that and push us every day.
“It’s been great. It’s more than I could ever imagine. I’ve worked hard all my life, but getting around these guys and their staff and seeing how hard they push you and getting the best out of you is something I never thought I had a chance to do. I’m blessed.”
Time has passed, and Richmond has no regrets of leaving Illinois. Plenty of people have said Richmond could use another year of college basketball after an up-and-down freshman campaign, but he believed his one season with the Illini gave him the experience he was seeking to go forward.
“I just feel some people use different experiences for different reasons,” Richmond said. “Some people may go to college and wait until they’re comfortable enough to feel like they have to make a jump or want to make a jump. I feel I learned a lot as far as being on my own, as far as responsibility, working hard, competing. I took those tools that I learned, and I’m going to apply them to next level with the help of these guys to get to my ultimate goal.”
Richmond’s mother Kim cringed at first that her son was leaving his education behind so quickly at Illinois, but she and her husband Bill have stood firmly behind him every step of the way. Kim even drives Richmond into Chicago for his workouts every day. The commute can be as long as two hours in rush hour.
“I would always support the educational piece,” Kim said. “I’m his mom, you know. I value my education, and I want the same thing for all my children. Ultimately, that’s what you do as a parent. He’s not doing anything egregious. He just wants to live his dream. The fact he says, ‘You know what, mom, education is still very important to me. Just at this point of life, I want to take a different direction.’ I support that as long as it’s the right thing.
“It’s been Jereme’s lifelong dream, so I can honestly tell you I wasn’t shocked by his decision. I thought things could have been a little more smooth for him, where he probably could have done things a little bit more traditionally. But when you have the kind of dreams and a passion for something the way this kid does for this sport, you kind of can’t stand in the way.”
Since his decision, Richmond has heard the various conspiracy theories for why he was departing Illinois. Richmond denied his decision had anything to do with poor grades, failed drug tests, his relationship with Illinois’ staff or players or any other reason beside him believing he’s now ready for the NBA.
“Any time these drastic changes happen like that, such as mine leaving so abruptly, people just throw out different reasons why it could be,” Richmond said. “My academics were fine. Everything on the medical side was fine. This is a decision I felt that would benefit myself as well as my family, and I felt from the pit of my heart I really could do this.
“I had a great time at U of I. That’s the thing that people don’t understand. They think of it as, ‘What happened between him and the staff?’ The staff was great. I enjoyed every second of my teammates. Coach Weber still stays in contact with my mother and father. Coach [Jerrance] Howard as everyone knows has been one of my mentors and kind of like an older brother figure for a long time. I still talk to Crandall [Head] and D.J. [Richardson.] I still check on Meyers [Leonard] and the all guys to see how they’re doing. There’s no ill feeling toward U of I.”
Because Richmond left Illinois under a cloud of suspicion and there have been rumors, Grover understands Richmond’s interviews with NBA teams will be vital in the draft process. Grover has been clear with Richmond about that.
“When he does his interviews with teams and talks to them, it’s plain and simple,” Grover said. “I said, ‘They’ve already done their background check. Just tell the truth. That’s all.’”
Richmond said he’s out to do that.
“They just want to see if you’re up front and honest,” Richmond said. “I can’t do anything less. Any time I get the chance to get in front of someone and tell my story, I’ll be 100 percent honest.”
It’s why Richmond didn’t hesitate to talk about what occurred with him and former teammate Brandon Paul when they had to be separated following Illinois’ loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament.
“The situation with Brandon is it just was a situation where emotions were very high,” Richmond said. “We went into the Michigan game expecting to win, and we didn’t win. Obviously two competitors, we just got into it. At the same time, people don’t understand Brandon and I have known each other for many years. After the situation happened, it was immediately squashed. There was no ill feelings toward me and him. People get it misconstrued, but at the same time it’s a situation where two young man had it out. That’s all.”
Richmond also felt people misunderstand him on the day of his decision when he tweeted, “Thanks to my haters and motivators. If I so happen to fail, I want my doubters to know that my failure is greater than your biggest success.”
“It wasn’t out of the heat of the moment,” Richmond said. “It was very calculated on my behalf. I wanted to kind of just send a message that I am a young man taking a huge leap. Not a lot of people get the chance to do what I’m doing. If I so happen to ‘fail’ at my attempt, it was a great attempt. That’s all I wanted people to understand. Nothing malicious toward any specific group of people, but just putting it out there.”
Richmond did receive a number of negative messages on social media from Illinois fans after making his announcement. Richmond wouldn’t go into details, but he said a few fans crossed the line. He also said he got why they were angry.
“It was hard on me because U of I fans they’re very enthusiastic, but at the same time you can’t really blame them for wanting to see their university do well,” Richmond said. “I had a chance to be a part of their success. Sometimes when things go a certain way, people, like we all do, act in a certain way. You can’t blame U of I fans for that. There’s no ill feelings toward any of them.”
Kim also felt that way.
“Clearly, he recognizes that the fans of Illinois and all over waited for four years for him to get to Illinois and were expecting something big to happen,” Kim said. “I think the disappointment is very real for the fans. I don’t think Jereme isn’t unsympathetic to that. Again, you got to follow his direction. You can’t always do what everybody else thinks is best for you. He took in the negativity, but he’s a very positive person at the same time.”
Richmond has yet to hire an agent, and Kim said they were near finalizing one.
NBA draft analysts have Richmond going anywhere from the first round to being skipped all together. Richmond wasn’t too concerned about it as of now.
“I haven’t asked anything,” Richmond said. “Tim just tells me to stay hungry and stay focused and he’ll do the rest.
“[The draft is] right around the corner, but at the same time I can’t take my eye off the prize. Right now in order to get to that goal, I have to work as hard as I can ever day. I’m definitely excited, but the work starts here.”