NORTHFIELD — Jereme Richmond played basketball five times during his 18 months in prison, all for extra food.
"I had to play to survive," the 2010 Illinois Mr. Basketball and former University of Illinois player said during an interview Monday afternoon. "I needed the food. I used my skill, my talent, so I could win money to eat."
Richmond, who spent a single season in Champaign-Urbana before he declared for the NBA draft, has dealt with numerous legal issues and was sentenced to three years in prison for harassing a probation officer in 2013.
In prison, Richmond would use money he bet on games — he once won $75, he said — for food from the prison commissary.
"Other than that, I couldn't stand playing," he said. "The thought of going from playing on ESPN to prison, that was my reality, and I couldn't stand it. I didn't even go to the gym."
Justin Breen met up with Richmond to chat about his journey:
Richmond was in Lake County jail in Waukegan from April 25, 2013, to Dec. 20, 2013, and then at Vandalia Correctional Center — about 110 miles southwest of Champaign — until Oct. 20, 2014. On his release day, his father, William, and uncle, Anthony Holliday, were waiting for him in the parking lot as the prison's front gate opened. Moments before, a prison guard asked Richmond when he was going to be back.
"That's not going to happen," Richmond said.
In his first interview since his prison release, Richmond told DNAinfo Chicago his "story is going to be a feel-good story."
"I want to use my experiences to help people, even if I never make another dollar playing basketball. This happened to me so I could help people. God is using me as a vessel to show other people the right route," he said.
'A rough time' to get through
Richmond committed to the U. of I. as a high school freshman. His half-court buzzer-beater against Warren Township and future Illini teammate Brandon Paul in the 2009 IHSA sectionals is still the stuff of legend.
"Not a day goes by that someone doesn't bring up that shot to me," Richmond said.
A McDonald's All-America selection and the 2010 Mr. Basketball at Waukegan High School, the 6-foot-7 guard/forward averaged 21 points and 11.5 rebounds as a senior.
In his one season in Champaign-Urbana, he averaged 22.1 minutes and 7.6 points per game, earning All-Big Ten Freshman Team accolades. But Richmond was suspended several times for what he said were "dirty drops" of marijuana traces in his urine samples. Richmond said he routinely smoked marijuana in college.
"It was an escape from some of the pain, some of the frustration I had, and from that, it turned into abuse," Richmond said. "It turned from an escape into a problem."
Richmond's drug issues became legal ones after he wasn't drafted by an NBA team after his freshman season. His legal problems included felony charges of aggravated battery and unlawful use of a weapon after allegedly confronting his girlfriend's father in August 2011, when he also was accused of punching his girlfriend and threatening her family with a gun, the Tribune reported.
He pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful use of a weapon on Jan. 23, 2012, and was sentenced to 18 months probation. During that probation, in April 2013, the threats to his probation officer landed him in prison.
Behind bars, Richmond learned to play chess with some of the older inmates. A low point was when he said a prison guard spit chewing tobacco in his face, trying to intimidate him and provoke a punch. Richmond "just had to take it."
"It was a rough time, but I had to get through it," Richmond said.
Over 18 months, Richmond said he never had a visitor, by choice.
"I missed my family so much, but I was ashamed, and I knew it would break them down," Richmond said. "I just knew it would break my mother [Kimberlee] down seeing me like that."
Richmond said the other huge challenge in prison was watching NBA games.
"Seeing my counterparts thrive was tough, not because I'm disappointed in them, but because I'm mad at myself," Richmond said. "I felt I should be out there myself."
Thoughts of the NBA
Since his prison release, Richmond, who turns 23 on March 13, has lived under house arrest with a family friend in north suburban Northfield.
He is not working, wears a monitor on his left ankle and can't leave the state for any reason. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, he can leave the house from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, those hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Saturdays, he must stay home the entire day. Richmond said he sees his probation officer about once every six weeks.
Much of Richmond's time is spent working out at home or various local gyms. He's also enrolled in online courses at American Intercontinental University. In three years, he hopes to graduate with a bachelor's degree in business administration with a specialization in management.
"Right now, I'm dealing with the world, and that's a big step right there for me," Richmond said. "This location is a great place for me to clear my head."
Richmond's agent, Andre Buck, said the biggest goal for his client is "to have a fruitful and enjoyable life."
"And I think that his mind is where he needs to be to get him there," Buck said.
With the restricted hours, Richmond hasn't had a chance to return to U. of I. He said he wonders what people's reaction would be if he showed up at a game at Assembly Hall as a fan.
"I miss playing under those lights," Richmond said. "I felt like I left a lot on the table there that I can't get back."
Richmond said he appreciated the opportunity he had at Illinois, that former coach Bruce Weber and others "did a great job getting me qualified [academically] and trying to keep me out of trouble."
If he could have a do-over and not declare for the draft, he probably wouldn't have, he said.
"If it works out and I get drafted, it's the best decision I ever made," Richmond said. "Of course I think about what would have happened if I stayed. My sophomore year, maybe I would have gotten more flexibility, more playing time. I probably would have been more patient with the process and not jump to the NBA first."
Richmond said that by this time next year, he hopes to be playing professionally overseas. And he still has the NBA firmly in his crosshairs.
"Whether it's overseas or in the D-League, I'll kill it, and hopefully get my NBA chance," Richmond said. "I have an advantage now: I can just be me. People know my flaws, and you can't beat me. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and I have a lot of solid people in my corner."
That includes Buck.
"I believe that if he is given a chance, he will not disappoint anyone," Buck said. "The rest of this life and his career is in his hands with the guidance that he receives. Personally, I think that he is a young man of potential."
"It's definitely realistic as far as the skills he has," Irvin said. "I wouldn't count out the NBA in the future either. He was one of the best basketball players I've seen in high school. I definitely can see where he can go overseas and be successful and probably get back to the NBA.
"This is America," Irvin added. "You can get a second chance."
And of his future mindset, Richmond stressed: "For everybody who might read this, I want them to understand, no matter where you're going in life, you have to fall in love with the process, and you can't shortcut things. If you stay focused and are around the right people, you can go wherever you're going to go. That's all."
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