Richardson lending a hand
CHAMPAIGN — His own career put on hold by an ankle injury, former Illini D.J. Richardson has spent time with the current UI players this week at the Ubben Basketball Complex.
On Sunday night, the former Big Ten Freshman of the Year got a late-night workout in with freshmen guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate.
On Monday and Tuesday, Richardson was around for the team practices as the Illini prepared for tonight’s game at Minnesota (8 p.m., BTN) looking for just their second win in the last 12 games.
“It’s tough, but at the same time it’s a young group. There’s not too much you can ask for,” Richardson said of the current Illini. “They can definitely limit their mistakes, and the more they limit their mistakes the better they’ll get.
“They definitely have a young team. They play hard. You can’t really knock them for playing hard. They definitely have to make shots and play better offensively.”
Richardson, the locker room leader of last year’s team that rebounded from a 2-7 start in Big Ten play to reach the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, only played with three of the current Illinois players (Joseph Bertrand, Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu), but his presence around the team this week has struck a cord with the players and coaches.
“They love it. Some of these guys saw him play (and) some of these guys are here because of him, so it’s a good thing to have him around,” UI assistant coach Jamall Walker said of Richardson, who injured an ankle earlier this month before playing a game with his professional club in Venezuela.
“To have him around shows not only the commitment level he has not only for the University of Illinois, but the basketball program as a whole.”
In addition to being a positive influence by sharing tales of his career with the current team, Richardson is rehabbing his injured ankle with the hopes of continuing his professional career soon. He’s hopeful a Big Ten tournament championship can get the Illini into the Dance.
“These guys have been great on and off the court. They’re still learning, (and) it’s a young group,” he said. “You can only just try to get better. The great thing about this and college basketball is you can still make it to the (NCAA) tournament with the stretch that they’ve had this year.”