Originally posted on Sports Mockery  |  Last updated 2/25/14
Last March when Illinois lost in heartbreaking fashion to Miami (FL) in the NCAA Tournament, four-year senior D.J. Richardson collapsed onto the locker room floor in devastation. D.J. shot just 1 for 11 in his final game with the Fighting Illini. Shots weren’t falling, I was obviously taking shots that I’m capable of making. They fell in the last game, I was missing this game. My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball in the right spots I’ve just got to knock them in. But obviously my career is over so I have to look forward to my future. – D.J. Richardson At the time, it appeared that with the end of Richardson’s career came the end of his impact on the Fighting Illini basketball team. However, that was far from the truth.  Laying the Foundation John Groce was hired as coach after Richardson’s junior year, when Illinois’ embarrassing collapse caused them to miss the tournament. No one really knew if the 2012-2013 Illinois team was going to respond positively to Groce’s coaching. If the senior leaders rejected the new coach’s teachings, then it would have likely destroyed his reputation for years to come, both with younger players on the team and on the recruiting trail. However, the seniors, including Richardson, embraced their new coach and the team managed to reach the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament that year. In the locker room after the loss to Miami, an emotional John Groce praised his seniors: Seniors, I can’t thank you enough for what you guys have done. For the foundation that you’ve laid as we build this thing. I will never, ever be able to repay you for that. I’m forever grateful. I appreciate your buy-in. I appreciate your open mindedness from day one. You didn’t have to do that. But you did.  - John Groce The impact that the seniors had wasn’t just felt by John Groce, though; guard Tracy Abrams talked about how the departing seniors helped his skills develop throughout the season. Those guys are half the reason I became the player that I was this year. I learned from those guys and fed off their energy and their experience. It definitely helped me out on and off the court just to have those guys around and showing leadership. – Tracy Abrams Illinois returned just three players from the previous season. The team has struggled extensively this season, but things could have been even worse if not for the leadership of D.J. Richardson and last season’s seniors. Coaching the Freshman After suffering an ankle injury, D.J. returned to Champaign and has since been giving guidance to some of the Illinois freshman, especially Kendrick Nunn. A few days before the Minnesota game he worked out with Nunn and Jaylon Tate. Dj Richardson (@djrich32) was able to have some solid workouts with Kendrick Nunn before this game. I asked him what he told the freshman… — Taylor Rooks Sports (@ImTaylorRooks) February 20, 2014 The workouts seemed to make an impact, as Kendrick dropped 19 points on 5-7 3-point shooting leading Illinois to a win. Dj told Nunn that when he "sees daylight," he should just let it go. Looks like it's working. Nunn having a career high game with 19 points. — Taylor Rooks Sports (@ImTaylorRooks) February 20, 2014 Richardson’s talk with Nunn could end up being the turning point in the freshman guard’s career. It appears that receiving support from a former Illinois player gave Kendrick the confidence boost that he needed. If Nunn can continue to consistently provide good outside shooting and electrifying plays, then D.J. may have unlocked Illinois’ greatest young asset. Illinois’ assistant coach, Jamall Walker, talked about the profound impact Richardson’s presence has had on the team: 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. It’s extremely encouraging to see former players like D.J. Richardson returning and contributing to the success of the orange and blue. The lessons and experiences that he provides the young players will help not only this season, but for years to come. MVP by Default D.J. Richardson deserves to be the most valuable player of the 2013-2014 Illinois basketball team because he has shown unwavering commitment to the team, and his presence has resulted in the rapid improvement of the team’s younger players. He also deserves to be the MVP because none of the current Fighting Illini players have played with enough consistency to earn the award. The closest candidate, and likely actual recipient of the award, is Rayvonte Rice. Rice leads Illinois in points and minutes; however, the Champaign native has disappeared at key moments this season and lacks the ability to create scoring opportunity’s for anyone but himself. A case can also be made for Richardson’s freshman pupil, Kendrick Nunn, to win the MVP. However, early in the season, Nunn didn’t see the basketball court much and he has been inconsistent throughout the season. The story is the same for Abrams, Egwu, and Bertrand. While they have played great at times, they haven’t been dominant enough to deserve the award. Give the Man Some Recognition Although the idea of D.J. winning Illinois’ real 2013-2014 MVP award may be a little absurd, he may be the most deserving candidate. At the very least, the Fighting Illini should acknowledge Richardson at the end of the season when the team awards are announced. ————————- Photo(s): DailyIllini       Author informationAlex ErwinStudent at Freeburg High School, home of the Midgets. I'm a devoted Fighting Illini basketball fan. When I'm not watching college basketball games I enjoy running, bowling, and pretending that I'm good at basketball during pick-up games.TwitterFacebookGoogle+The post D.J. Richardson Deserves 2013-2014 Fighting Illini MVP appeared first on Sports Mockery.
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