When most young, highly ranked basketball recruits are asked to list their best attributes on the court, they talk about their ability to shoot from long range or get to the basket or some other trait related to their offensive game.
When five-star center Nick Richards is asked the question, he talks about rebounding, he talks about defense and he makes no apologies.
“I just want to do something different that nobody else is doing, to be honest,” Richards said over the weekend at the Nike event in Indianapolis. “I see nobody in my class is really playing defense.”
The 7-footer from Queens, N.Y., won’t wow anyone with his offense, but he’s a force on the other end. Richards is an accomplished shot blocker, and his presence in the post often forces opponents to alter their own shots in an attempt to get them around his outstretched arms.
In one play during Sunday’s weekend finale, top-five recruit Michael Porter Jr. — one of the best offensive players in the country — made an excellent pivot move on the baseline to get his defender in the air and then stepped toward the basket for what normally would have been an easy layup.
Richards came flying at the last second with the help defense and swatted Porter’s shot away. UK Coach John Calipari was among those watching.
“He’s a defensive presence, a guy that rebounds in and out of his area,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “He contests shots. He gets up and down the floor fairly well; decent athlete.
“The next step is developing his offensive game and a go-to move on the block.”
Richards — ranked by Scout as the No. 20 overall player in the class of 2017 — is aware of his offensive limitations, and he says he’s working on improving his game on that end. Most of his baskets this past weekend came on alley-oop finishes, putbacks and poorly contested shots at the rim.
“My post game is getting a little bit better,” he said. “My face-up game is getting a little bit better. I’m still trying to work on my jumper. I probably need to get better at my conditioning. I’m just trying to work on my overall game, to be honest.
“I’m trying to be a basketball player.”
Richards was one of the first players from the class of 2017 to earn a scholarship offer from Kentucky, and someone from the Wildcats coaching staff was at every one of his games over the weekend. Calipari was courtside to watch him play more often than not.
There’s a perception in recruiting circles that UK is the leader for Richards, though he said he doesn’t know where that came from and stressed that the Wildcats are on the “same level” as every other school pursuing him at the moment.
UConn and Villanova — both nearby schools — are the only two campuses he’s visited, and he said he has no current plans to see any other colleges any time soon. He also predicted he wouldn’t make a college decision until after his upcoming senior season at The Patrick School in New Jersey (the same institution that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dakari Johnson once played for).
Whether the Wildcats are favorites or not, they’ve clearly made Richards a priority early in the process.
“They just told me that if I come to their school, I’m going to be on the biggest stage in college basketball,” he said. “But if I’m not ready for it, I shouldn’t go there. They’re giving me the real.”
Asked if he was ready for that stage, Richards furrowed his brow as if it was a silly question.
“Of course,” he said. “I’m not scared of anything. I like challenges. I’m up to any challenge.”