The calendar says it's time for the optimism from recruiting victories by the Illinois coaching staff to turn into wins. Heading out the locker room door, Illinois senior forward Mike Davis and three other seniors turned the program over to a roster of freshmen and sophomores, and the biggest recruiting victory under coach Bruce Weber must grow up quickly.
CHAMPAIGN -- The calendar says it's time for the optimism from recruiting victories by the Illinois coaching staff to turn into wins.
Heading out the locker room door, Illinois senior forward Mike Davis and three other seniors turned the program over to a roster of freshmen and sophomores, and the biggest recruiting victory under coach Bruce Weber must grow up quickly.
Freshman Jereme Richmond, who didn't play in the two NCAA tournament games last weekend, is Illinois' best talent, but he's been a problem child during his year with the program.
This was Richmond's second suspension, and he also led the Illini in technical fouls this season. Calling him a leader makes popele outside the locker room a bit uneasy.
"We've got to hand it over to Jereme and Brandon (Paul),'' Davis said. "Those are two returning players who must lead this team.''
Coach Bruce Weber said after the 73-59 loss to top-seeded Kansas in the round of 32 Sunday in Richmond "was still part of the team,'' and his Illini teammates expected him back next season. Richmond wasn't available for comment following the game, and the Illini scattered for spring break this week.
"I thought he had a great attitude while he's here (in Tulsa),'' Weber said. "Now, we have to move forward with him and his life.''
Richmond isn't ready for pro ball, and he could help himself by improving his jump shot. A transfer wouldn't make sense, because that means he sits out a year -- making any jump to pro ball one year farther away. Davis claimed there's no chemistry issue with Richmond, although a source said Richmond was involved in a scuffle in the locker room following the loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.
"He's going to mature,'' Davis said. "He's only 18 years old. What do you expect? When I was young, I was just like that. It takes time to mature. We're working with him. I love him like a brother. He'll come back and have a great year next year. We don't look down on him in any way. He's my brother. He made a mistake.''
Senior forward Bill Cole said Richmond "is very vocal. A lot of leaders have to work on being able to step into that role. For him, it's natural.''
The question is if Richmond can become dependable and grounded. Richmond and the Illini could learn a lesson from Kansas junior power forwards Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, a set of twins from Philadelphia who overpowered the Illini. Markieff Morris scored 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds. Marcus Morris had 17 points and 12 rebounds, but their best contribution came from their work ethic, Weber said.
The Jayhawks' star players "play their butts off,'' Weber said. "You've got to be prepared and put the effort into it beyond just practice, beyond just weights and just conditioning. It's got be a special effort. We've got to get some young guys to step up and give that leadership that pushes people.''
With transfer Sam Maniscalco from Bradley the only scholarship senior next season, the other candidates are sophomore guards D.J. Richardson and Paul, who combined for 89 starts in their first two seasons.
Richardson slumped through the Big Ten season, then scored 10 points in the win over UNLV -- including two key 3-pointers in the second half -- before finishing with 15 against Kansas. His rolled into the offseason with momentum, and Weber liked how Richardson put the ball on the floor, showing some of the slashing ability that made him a prep star.
"He was a major factor (in the NCAAs),'' Weber said. "Now he's got to advance his game, handle it and do some other things.''
Paul earned the Matto Award by leading the Illini on the play-hard chart, and he will also attempt to become a more versatile guard by learning point guard skills.
"There's going to be a lot of work to do this summer,'' Richardson said. "I'll do whatever I can to help this team get back on top.''
McCamey finished sixth all-time in scoring at Illinois with 1,718 points. Davis (1,279) jumped past Doug Altenberger for 23rd, and Mike Tidsale (1,243) passed Lowell Hamilton for 25th.
Tisdale also ended 176 blocks, one short of tying Deon Thomas for the school record. Along with Bill Cole, the Illini seniors hand the program over to players ranked high by the recruiting scouts.
HOCKEY: Athletic directors at Big Ten schools that field hockey voted unanimously to recommend to the Big Ten council of presidents in June the addition of hockey as an official conference sport in the 2013-14 season. Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin already field teams, and Penn State will add the sport for the 2012-13 season.
There is no movement to add the sport at Illinois, said athletic department spokesman Kent Brown. If the Illini would someday consider hockey, it would most likely happen first for women because of gender equity issues.
The recommendation includes the establishment of a Big Ten Tournament, awarding the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament to the tournament winner and a 30-game conference schedule with each team playing the other five schools four times.
IN OTHER NEWS: Second baseman Thomas Lindauer was named co-freshman of the week in the Big Ten after hitting 3-for-7 with two RBIs and three runs scored in a pair of starts in wins against Saint Louis and Southern Illinois. The Illini (6-10) open the home season against Indiana State on Friday. Admission is free to all home games this season. ... In men's golf, No. 6 Illinois advanced to the title match in the Callaway Collegiate Match Play tournament Tuesday to face No. 22 Duke after rallying past Texas Tech in the semifinals Monday. The Illini defeated defending NCAA champ Texas A&M and Baylor in matches Sunday. ... Illinois finished third among the seven teams at the Big Ten women's gymnastics meet. Freshman Amber See tied for the Big Ten vault title with a 9.9.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.