For a kid who’s only been playing basketball for about four years, Nick Richards is doing pretty well for himself.
The 6-foot-11 center from Jamaica was a soccer star — playing midfielder and goalkeeper — and competed in track in field in his home country. When he outgrew the pitch — he was up to 6-5 by the age of 13 — he knew it was time to find another sport.
“I couldn’t keep up, because I was getting too big and getting too slow,” Richards said this week from the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago.
His selection for this annual all-star game — he was one of four Kentucky commitments in town this week — shows how far he’s come in such a relatively short amount of time.
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Richards started playing basketball when he moved to the United States for high school — his family is in Queens, N.Y., but he attends The Patrick School in New Jersey — and he quickly emerged as one of the dominant defensive players in his recruiting class. Richards has an offensive game that’s still fairly raw for a top-20 recruit — “It’s not really there yet,” he acknowledged — but it continues to show promise with each passing month.
This week, he showed off an improving mid-range game and even created some shots for himself off the dribble. His post moves are coming along, and he often finds opportunities on the offensive boards.
Richards has lofty ambitions.
“No matter what sport I played, I was always the best at what I did,” he said. “I’m not the No. 1 player right now. But, in the end, I’ll hopefully be the No. 1 pick and be the best player in the NBA. That’s the goal.”
Already in Lexington
UK freshman Hamidou Diallo enrolled in college classes and joined the Wildcats in January — as a practice player only — after starting this season in high school.
Even if Diallo, who actually graduated from high school last spring, had stayed at Putnam Science Academy (Conn.) throughout the school year, he wouldn’t have been eligible for the McDonald’s Game due to his status as a fifth-year, post-grad student.
Still, his name came up quite a bit in Chicago this week.
“That’s like my best friend,” said UK point guard recruit Quade Green. “I talk to him all the time. I just got off the phone with him, actually, before we got up here. That’s my boy. He told me, ‘Just come in here and be ready to work. Block all the noise out. Block the fans out, because it’s going to be crazy out there.’
“He already told me it’s going to be crazy, so you just have to stay focused.”
A parent’s opinion
Quade Green’s fellow UK commitments heaped praise on their future point guard during McDonald’s All-American Game media day this week, lauding not only his playing ability but also his positive demeanor and leadership skills.
They’re not the only ones who have been impressed by Green.
Paul Washington — head coach at national powerhouse Findlay Prep (Nev.) and the father of UK signee PJ Washington — watched Green lead his team from an 18-point deficit to defeat his son’s squad in the Nike Peach Jam semifinals last summer.
“He’s just driven,” Paul Washington said. “And you don’t get that in every kid. That’s one of the things I think a lot of college coaches are frustrated with right now. They don’t have that one kid that’s driven that wants to do whatever it takes — not just scoring. That’s his mentality. He’s always been told he’s not the fastest kid, he’s not the tallest kid, he’s not the most athletic kid. But at the end of the day, he gets the job done. And I think that’s what (other recruits) like about him.
“You know when he steps on the floor that he’s a winner. And he’s an unselfish player.”
Mohamed Bamba — the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2017 — has narrowed his list to Kentucky, Duke, Michigan and Texas. He was asked this week if he knew there was an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary on John Calipari coming out next month.
It’s the first Bamba had heard of the film.
“I’ll be sure to take a look at that,” he said, seeming to have genuine interest in the movie about one of the coaches recruiting him.
Calipari had better hope it’s good. The documentary — “One and Not Done” — is scheduled to premiere on ESPN on April 13, and there’s a good chance Bamba will still be uncommitted at that time.