Illini hoops update: Catching up with Richmond, Leonard and more

John Supinie

While incoming freshman forward Jereme Richmond prepared to play on the U.S. national under-18 team later this month after earning a spot this week, other Illinois basketball players (past and present) were busy at Ubben Basketball Complex on Thursday.

Q: Where is freshman center Meyers Leonard in recovering from the stress fracture?

A: The 7-foot, 238-pound Leonard concentrates on upper body weight lifting while letting his left foot heal from an injury suffered during the Nike Hoop Summit while playing for the U.S. team in April. Leonard isn't cleared to play full-court basketball and does no drill work, but he's fine with the precautionary strategy that kept him from attending the USA basketball under-18 tryout.

"I'm pretty limited right now,'' Leonard said. "My freshman year is more important than anything else. I want to be ready for that first practice and the first game. It's more important to play in Madison Square Garden for a university than to play for the U.S. I'm more focused on my freshman year right now.''

Q: How has rehabilitation slowed freshman guard Crandall Head?

A: Head described his surgically repaired right knee as 90 percent healed, and he's allowed to play in half of the pickup games at Ubben. He will be evaluated Friday by team physicians, but Head planned to be full strength by the start of preseason camp. The rehab includes plenty of squats.

"I'm trying to get my body right,'' Head said. "They going to examine both of my legs and see what muscles need to improve.''

After surgery in September and missing his senior season, Head scrimmaged with friends in the spring, but coach Bruce Weber urged him to work on individual skills such as shooting and ballhandling. Head also wants to improve his lateral movement, a hurdle for anyone overcoming ACL surgery.

Q: Was that former Illini guard Jamar Smith?

A: Yes. Wearing a Southern Indiana T-shirt, Smith played with the Illini while awaiting the NBA draft in June. Smith was invited to play for the Charlotte Bobcats in the summer league, he said, and hoped to land an invitation to the team's preseason camp. If not, the former Peoria Richwoods High School star will play in Europe after finishing his career at the Division II school in Evansville.

"It's easy to get caught up in the life,'' Smith said. "(Illini) basketball players are looked at here as celebrities. Walking to class, you got people asking for your autograph. You really are a celebrity just by playing basketball. Evansville gave me a chance to focus on school and basketball without so much of the spotlight.

"The attention basketball players get in Division I compared to Division II is totally different.''

But the scouts still have their eyes on Smith, a sharpshooting 6-foot-3, 180-pounder.

Q: Is Chester Frazier a coach or a player?

A: He's a coach, but Frazier wasn't ready to say if he's ready to turn in his uniform after winning a championship while playing professionally for a team in Germany last season. Wearing a walking boot to keep weight off his bruised left heal, the former Illini guard and team leader tossed entry passes to Illini big men Thursday afternoon after also working an Illini basketball camp.

"Right now, I just don't know,'' Frazier said. "I'm enjoying my summer. I will know what's going on in a few weeks or so.''

John Supinie can be reached at