STERLING – Admittedly, Jereme Richmond was rusty. He was also relieved to again be playing the game he so loves.
The former Illini and McDonald’s All-American helped the Sauk Valley Predators to a 110-103 IBA-PBL season-opening win over the Kankakee Soldiers on Saturday at Musgrove Fieldhouse.
Kwan Waller, an ultra-aggressive point guard, scored a team-high 29 points for Sauk Valley. He also grabbed nine rebounds and dished out seven assists. Richmond notched 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Richmond, a Waukegan native, had previously been legally denied permission to play a second season with the Predators because of probation violations. That ruling was reversed on Feb. 15.
“It’s been a tough year and a half,” Richmond said. “But I’m not thinking about the negatives. It’s all about growing up, putting yourself in the right positions, being around the right people.
“That’s why I love it out here. The community is so great. They’re so loving and warm.”
With the score tied at 86 with less than 8 minutes remaining, Richmond and Waller combined for 13 straight points in a 13-2 tear.
After Waller knocked down two free throws to start the burst, Richmond had a blow-by drive for a bucket. Richmond found a cutting Waller for a basket before Waller added another hoop to make it 94-86 with 6:05 to play.
They weren’t done. Richmond buried a 3-pointer from the right wing, and Waller threw down an emphatic dunk off an alley-oop, giving the Predators a 99-88 lead with 5:17 left.
“I love playing with Jereme,” Waller said. “I never had a lot of talent around me, so it makes my job a lot easier.”
Sauk Valley took its largest lead of 12, 104-92, after Waller hit one of two free throws with 2:45 remaining.
Kankakee (1-1), which won its opener 117-110 last Sunday against Lake Michigan, did not throw in the towel.
The Soliders cut it to 106-103 with 23 seconds left after back-to-back 3s.
It was the first pro win for Preds head coach Ryan Vasquez, a 2001 Sterling High grad who also coaches Sterling’s boys sophomore team.
“It’s a work in progress. We have some work to do. I have some work to do,” Vasquez said. “Defensively is where we got it done. We were plus seven in rebounds, and we got the stops when we needed them.”
The Predators struggled early, falling behind 20-13 in the first quarter. They trailed by six, 58-52, early in the third quarter before heating up.
DeAndre Taylor (16 points), Keith Radcliff (13), Shelton Jackson (11), and Casey Love (11) were also in double figures for Sauk Valley.
Ryan Edwards led Kankakee with 29 points.
Star of the game: Kwan Waller, Predators, 29 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists
Key performers: Ryan Edwards, Kankakee, 29 points, 15 rebounds; Jereme Richmond, Predators, 19 points, 11 rebounds
Up next: Bloomington at Predators, 7 p.m. Friday