Purdue has Chris Kramer, Minnesota has Damian Johnson and Ohio State has Evan Turner. Kramer and Johnson are seniors, while Turner is a junior who will most likely opt for the NBA Draft after this season. All three upperclassmen are solid defensive anchors for their respective Big Ten basketball squads.
But for Illini head coach Bruce Weber, his best defensive option is a freshman. Peoria, Ill., native D.J. Richardson has arguably exhibited the most defensive toughness for Illinois this season, guarding everyone from Wisconsin’s Trevon Hughes and Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore to Michigan’s Manny Harris and Penn State’s Talor Battle. Not to mention, Weber gave Richardson the tall task of guarding Turner — the top candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year — on Tuesday night.
“He’s guarded all the top guys in the league, so (it’s) a little bit scary,” Weber said of Richardson. “When you consider all the minutes, (he’s) definitely one of the top freshmen in the league.”
Even if Richardson has only contained the best players on opposing teams rather than shut them down, Weber sees it as an accomplishment, especially as it’s just his first year in the Big Ten.
“I don’t think he’s straight out locked down people, but he’s really made those guys work,” Weber said. “And when you think about it, as a freshman playing against juniors that are supposedly NBA prospects, he’s been very positive on the defensive end for us.”