The Rise Of D.J. Richardson

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

D.J. Richardson is well on his way to having his very own bronze statue outside of Assembly Hall.

D.J. Richardson has always been easy to root for -- a good player, a better leader, and if you ever have the pleasure of meeting him, a genuinely nice guy.

Now, given his explosion over the past several games, it is really easy to root for him. I came to a revelation last night as I watched the offense struggle against Penn State. Abrams dribbled off an Egwu screen, Brandon Paul curled out behind the arc looking for a pass and Bertrand stayed in the corner. A very average Illini possession with no successful end in sight. I thought, "They should iso D.J. at the top of the key."

I've thought that plenty about Bertrand and BP and even Abrams, at times. But never D.J. He was a slasher in high school, but for the past three years, I just figured that skill didn't translate to the college level. D.J. was a spot-up shooter and that was that.

I was wrong. I'm so happy to admit it. His improvement, or explosion, or whatever you want to call it displays itself in all its glory on the court. It is also evident through this stat:

D.J. is averaging more than 17 points over the last nine games. He scored 17 points ZERO times over the first 19 games.

Will Leitch raved about D.J. in his Power Rankings piece for today and summed up these same feelings. What he is doing on the court and where he has the team right now--peaking at the perfect time--is genuinely a joy to watch.

After the Purdue game, I concluded that the Illini went with Tyler Griffey. Perhaps an overstatement following the Indiana game, but to an extent, it is a true statement. When he shoots and rebounds well, the offense reaches a level it can't reach otherwise. The Fighting Illini need Tyler Griffey.

The truth, however, is that the Illini go with D.J. Richardson. We're nowhere without him.
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