Trick or tweet? Illinois coach Bruce Weber blasted irresponsible Internet rumor-mongering Monday while welcoming back freshman star Jereme Richmond.
“I’m not sure where all the rumors come from,’’ Weber said. “That’s one of the dilemmas you [media] have to deal with, all the Internet [stuff]. It really is a negative thing. I feel bad for you guys.’’
After missing practice Thursday and Friday to attend to personal matters at home in Waukegan, Richmond sat on the bench for Illinois’ loss Saturday at Wisconsin. Weber said Richmond sat because he doesn’t let players who haven’t practiced play, but some online observers read more into it.
“We [coaches] don’t feel good about things that were put out there,’’ Weber said. “There’s a lot of distrust that happens. Jereme had some personal issues that he wanted to deal with.’’
Richmond returns just in time to bolster the No. 23 Illini for an important two-game home stretch.
They will take on No. 17 Michigan State tonight (6, ESPN) before taking a shot at No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday.
“I dealt with some personal issues last week,’’ Richmond, who did not take questions, said in a statement. “With the help of coach Weber and my family, I have worked through this situation. Unfortunately, my absence led to some false rumors that I want to put to rest. I have been and always will be 100 percent committed to the Illinois basketball program. My coaches and teammates are my family. I am an Illini for life.’’
Coming off road losses at Penn State and Wisconsin, the Illini know how important it is to protect their home court. Illinois is 9-0 there and is aiming for an unblemished 16-0.
“That’s something we’ve emphasized since the beginning,’’ Weber said. “This is a huge week.’’
To remain unbeaten at home against the Spartans, Illinois has a long to-do list.
It includes more productivity from Mike Davis, who led the Big Ten in rebounding (9.2 a game) last season but has managed only five rebounds in two games. It means getting more offense from their No. 3 scorer, D.J. Richardson, who has managed only three free throws in two games while going 0-for-8 from the field.
And it means getting energy from Richmond, who has been slowed by a nagging Achilles injury as well as what appears to be a bout of feeling homesick.
“Hopefully, he’ll be a valuable member of our team down the stretch run,’’ Weber said. “He was really starting to figure it out and feel comfortable. Hopefully, we can get him back on track. He can add a lot to our team. He gives us a lot of versatility, especially when you talk about Michigan State playing small ball.’’
For an Illini Nation that has been stressing out over the Richmond passion play as well as subpar on-court play, this homestand may seem fraught with peril. But Weber wants his players to welcome the challenge.
“It shouldn’t be a stressful situation,’’ Weber said. “It should be, ‘Hey, we’ve got two great teams coming in.’ It should be something you relish.’’
Illinois will have a better chance with Richmond off the rumor mill and back on the floor.