“If I so happen to fail, I want my doubters to know that my failure is greater than your biggest success.”
That was the closing line of Jereme Richmond’s Twitter announcement that he would be declaring for the NBA draft after only one year at the University of Illinois. Immensely talented, Richmond had disappointed in his freshman season, averaging less than eight points per game. His decision baffled experts, who believed his basketball IQ and maturity could use at least another year in college. But Richmond chose instead to bet on himself. And with that choice, Richmond set out on a path to prove himself wrong.
Much of the stock that Richmond was counting on was based on his high school résumé . As a Chicago-area athlete, he had a high profile from day one. He was a McDonald’s All-American. His Waukegan high school team made it to the Illinois state championship his junior year. They finished third his senior year, a season in which he was named Illinois Mr. Basketball, as well. His high school days were also marked with no small amount of issues. During his sophomore year, he was kicked off the team for constant altercations with players and coaches. He returned later that season, but the remainder of his prep career was characterized by controversy.
And the controversy continued into his stint with the Illini. During the Big Ten conference tournament, he reportedly got into a fight with a teammate after their loss to Michigan. He later was suspended for Illinois’ two NCAA tournament games for “violation of the school’s athletic code,” though the details were never released. He showed flashes of his remarkable athleticism and sometimes splashed for double digit points, but his freshman year was labeled a colossal disappointment, especially considering the maturity issues that enveloped him.
Despite all of the red flags, however, Richmond was confident in his stock, and he was ready to pursue a dream. Though from a basketball standpoint, the decision was a suspect one at best, from a financial point of view, Richmond could not be completely faulted. Young players want to be in the NBA as quickly as possible. Regardless of whether or not it is the most beneficial option for their careers, the players want the money right away. It is understandable; many of them come from poor backgrounds and the money can immediately change their family’s situation. And there are plenty of success stories to back up that line of thinking. Richmond had just seen another Chicago area product named Derrick Rose go one-and-done in college and win an NBA Most Valuable Player award three years later.
But Jereme Richmond was not Derrick Rose. Jereme Richmond was a problem that could jump out of the gym but had little else going his way. At least, that is how every team in the league saw him because Richmond went undrafted. And with this turn of events, everything seemed to unravel for Jereme.
Less than two months later, Richmond was arrested for allegedly beating his seventeen year-old girlfriend and threatening her family with a gun. Two months after that, while out on bond, Richmond failed a drug test, resulting in a trip to prison. Later that year, he was placed on eighteen months probation upon his guilty plea for unlawful use of a weapon.
It was during this time that things began looking up for the former star. A semipro team located two hours east of his home in Waukegan, the Sauk Valley Predators, chose to sign the then 20-year old to a contract. Though he was still a long way from being able to sniff the NBA again, coaches and teammates praised both his play and his attitude, as he averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds a game. He was playing well, he was acting well, and things were turning around. For a very brief time.
Richmond abruptly walked away from the team, citing too much stress from playing the game he once loved. And with that, it seemed Richmond would never play again. Things grew worse when he allegedly threatened his probation officer. Apparently, after refusing to take a court-mandated drug test mere weeks before his probation was to expire, the officer was set to testify, and Richmond confronted her. The result was a felony charge for harassing a witness, and he currently waits in a Lake County jail with $250,000 bond.
The story on Jereme Richmond is far from over.
He is only 21 years old. The harassment charges against him are a little weak, so he may not face significant jail time. However, for someone who was supposed to be a great basketball player, it seems clear that the game is not a part of his future. When Richmond said his failure would be greater than his doubters’ biggest success, he was not completely wrong. His failure was one of the greatest failures in recent Chicago basketball memory.
As outsiders, everyone will try to analyze his failure.
Was it because of his early entry into the NBA draft? Was he simply not ready to face adulthood at such a young age? It is an interesting angle, but Richmond showed maturity issues when he was 15 years old. Maybe the microscope magnified his struggles, but clearly it was a personal problem, not a circumstance problem or a societal problem. There are plenty of immature athletes who still avoid complete implosion. Names like Michael Beasley and DeMarcus Cousins come to mind. They have found professional and personal success, irritating every coach along the way. Maybe he came from a rough background, but plenty of athletes work through the rough backgrounds and have great careers, let alone avoid total personal disintegration. Richmond did not have the makeup to survive in the NBA, and now because of it, he has to fight to keep his life intact.
Most likely, that will mean keeping basketball forever in the rear-view mirror.
Photo Credit: (http://mit.zenfs.com/190/2011/08/Richmond.jpg)