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Illini recruits playing in Pontiac tourney

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PONTIAC - A young boy in a University of Illinois sweatshirt posed a rather obvious question to a man clad totally in orange and blue Monday at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

"You here to see Brandon Paul and Jereme Richmond?" asked the child to a quick smile and affirmative nod.

Many in attendance at the 78th annual tournament are interested in watching two of the event's top players, Illinois recruits Brandon Paul of Gurnee Warren and Jereme Richmond of Waukegan.

"Last year I had a lot of people watching me," said Paul, a 6-foot-3 senior. "This year I knew it would be even more since I committed and signed."

A Pontiac all-tournament team member last season, Paul has scored 40 points to go with 18 rebounds and eight steals in two games to help Warren into today's 1 p.m. semifinal against Chicago Curie.

"Brandon has handled all the hype very well for two years," Warren coach Chuck Ramsey said. "Brandon is a work in progress. The biggest thing I've tried to emphasize to Brandon is being consistent in sustaining his effort. Sometimes he plays in spurts. You get results in spurts, but your effort has to be there all the time."

Ranked as the No. 44 senior in the nation by rivals.com, Paul scored 15 third-quarter points in an opening-round win over Niles West.

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"I was a little disappointed in my first half," he said. "I wanted to come out in the second half and give a show."

"Brandon has incredible ability. His best basketball is way ahead of him. He's going to keep getting better," said Ramsey. "If he can continually pressure the ball to his capability, he could be an incredible defensive player. He's so long and quick and has great anticipation."

The 6-7 Richmond is listed as the No. 19 junior in the country by rivals.com. The Waukegan leaper has 36 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals in his first two tournament games.

"I see Brandon a lot. With him being here supporting me and me supporting him, it's always a good feeling," Richmond said.

Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw called Richmond "an attraction. He's somebody the state of Illinois has a lot of hopes for. He's a special player. He can do anything on the floor. At times he leads our break. He's kind of unstoppable when he puts his mind to it."

Richmond would like to improve his off the ball movement.

"Sometimes I find myself being too stagnant without the basketball," he said. "I try to pick and choose my spots when to score and when to create for my teammates. I focus on the team concept and individual accolades will come in time."

Richmond has another Division I recruit as a teammate in Fairfield-bound Colin Nickerson.

"Every day in practice, he's the one pushing me to get better," said Richmond. "He's taking a lot of pressure off me."

Paul and Richmond are both pleased with Illinois' 12-1 start entering Tuesday's game at Purdue.

"It's definitely exciting to watch them now," said Paul. "They're winning a lot so that's good, too."

Illinois and Coach Bruce Weber recently received another commitment from Chicago Mount Carmel sophomore guard Tracy Abrams.

"Tracy is one of my best friends. When he finally gave the word, I was excited for him. I called him and we talked about it," Richmond said. "It's not really my job to bring players in, but at the same time I like to influence people to try to come (to Illinois) in the future and be part of something special."

Another Pontiac tournament player on Illinois' recruiting wish list is Curie sophomore Wayne Blackshear.

"I've seen him down at U of I a couple of times," said Richmond. "But I don't know much about him, so I really can't comment on that."

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