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Illini’s Jereme Richmond declares for NBA Draft

Illinois' Jereme Richmond celebrates after hitting shot during first half an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri Dec. 22 2010

Illinois' Jereme Richmond celebrates after hitting a shot during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri on Dec. 22, 2010, in St. Louis. | The Associated Press

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Illinois coach Bruce Weber and Fighting Illini fans spent four years waiting for Jereme Richmond, the program’s first McDonald’s All-American since Dee Brown in 2002.

Richmond and his family were dyed in the wool Illinois basketball fans, sticking with the Illini even after Tracy Webster, the assistant coach that brought Richmond in, left for Kentucky when Richmond was still in high school.

Richmond’s father Bill was a regular poster on Illinois fan message boards and a few weeks ago Richmond proclaimed himself “an Illini for life.”

This couldn’t have been the ending anyone had in mind.

On Tuesday, Illinois announced that Richmond (6-7, 205) was declaring for the NBA draft and not returning to school. According to the release, Richmond is working out in Chicago and will weigh his options regarding signing with an agent.

“I enjoyed my time at the University of Illinois and would like to thank the coaching staff and my teammates for everything they’ve done for me,” Richmond said in a statement. “At this time, I’m ready to follow my dreams and achieve my life-long goal of playing in the NBA.”

Richmond had a tumultuous freshman season, averaging 7.6 points and five rebounds. He played in 31 games and started six. Richmond missed Illinois’ two NCAA tournament games due to a violation of the school’s athletic code and sat out a game earlier in the season after returning home to deal with a personal matter.

He was also reportedly involved in a fight with a teammate after Illinois’ loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament on March 11.

“Jereme is an extremely talented player who helped us at nearly every position,” Weber said in a statement. “His versatility and ability to impact the game in a number of different areas are skills that will help him greatly as he pursues his dream of playing professional basketball. We wish Jereme the best and thank him for all he has meant to the Illinois basketball program, from the time he committed as a high school freshman through his contributions this past season.”

Richmond scored in double figures 10 times, including a career-high 18 points against Ohio State on Jan. 22.

This isn’t the usual path to the draft, even for one-and-done college players. Most underclassmen interested in the draft will remain in school and then decide to hire an agent or remove their name from the draft in time for the deadline, which this year is May 8. The release makes it clear that Richmond will not return to Illinois, but it would be possible for him to sit out a year and then attend another school.

“I don’t know all the particulars of Jereme and what is going into his decision making process,” Chicago-based agent Mark Bartlestein said. “I guess what I would say is that you hope for any player to keep their options open. In general I’m a big fan of kids staying in school, I think there is so much to gain from the experience of college.”

Richmond’s greatest legacy at Illinois will likely be the 2011 recruiting class. His commitment during his freshman year of high school ignited a solid recruiting run for Weber and his staff.

Richmond also had a controversial prep career at Waukegan. He was kicked off his high school team after his sophomore year after numerous altercations with teammates and coaches. He was allowed to return as a sophomore and eventually led the Bulldogs to two state tournament berths, but there was controversy nearly every step of the way.

Richmond was communicating via his twitter account after the announcement, tweeting “Thank you to my illini family for everything” and “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.”

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