Finally, John Calipari has his first commitment from the recruiting class of 2017.
Five-star center Nick Richards — a 6-foot-11 prospect from Queens, N.Y. — announced Thursday afternoon that he has committed to Kentucky, choosing the Wildcats over fellow finalists Arizona and Syracuse.
Richards revealed his decision one day after the start of the one-week November signing period, and it’s the latest in a recruiting cycle that Calipari has gone without a commitment since he became UK’s head coach in 2009.
The Cats got a good one in Richards, who is ranked by Scout.com as the No. 17 overall player in the 2017 class and is regarded as one of the best rebounders and post defenders in high school basketball.
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“He brings a defensive presence,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “He’s a guy that rebounds his area really well. He plays with toughness. He’s physical. He finishes off plays around the rim.
“This is a talented post player who can really help them on that end of the floor.”
Richards, who plays for The Patrick School in New Jersey but is originally from Jamaica, is the latest in a long line of international players to sign with Calipari’s Wildcats.
The current UK roster includes Wenyen Gabriel (Sudan), Isaac Humphries (Australia), Mychal Mulder (Canada) and Tai Wynyard (New Zealand). Last season’s team featured Skal Labissiere (Haiti) and Jamal Murray (Canada).
Richards has only been playing basketball for about four years, and his game has plenty of room to grow. He averaged 12.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots in 23.0 minutes per game on the Nike circuit this past summer, playing against the likes of DeAndre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter — all post players ranked among the top-five recruits in the country.
His offensive game remains a bit limited, but it’s improving. Many of his points come on putbacks and other open opportunities near the bucket, though he’s been working on his post game and back-to-the-basket moves. He was a 62.9 percent free-throw shooter on the Nike circuit.
His biggest value — in the short term, at least — will be on the other end of the court. Daniels said that Richards “most certainly” can make a significant contribution to UK’s team as a freshman.
“He’s physically ready for the collegiate level,” he said. “And he’ll impact the game with his rebounding, his rim protection and his dunking in the paint.”
Daniels also said he wasn’t sure how or if Richards’ commitment would affect the recruitment of Bamba, the No. 2 prospect in the 2017 class and the only other post player with a scholarship offer from Kentucky. Bamba, who visited UK for last month’s Big Blue Madness, is not expected to make a college decision until the spring.
Richards was the first of three major UK recruiting targets scheduled to announce a college choice Thursday. Five-star power forward PJ Washington will reveal his decision — UK, North Carolina or UNLV — on ESPNU’s signing day special at 6 p.m. Four-star wing John Petty will choose either UK or Alabama at halftime of his high school opener, which is set for Thursday at 8 p.m.
UK’s first commitment in each full class during Calipari era
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