In one respect, Nick Richards is a standout player for Kentucky. That’s because he did not ponder being a one-and-done player.
“I was pretty set on coming back,” he said Thursday. “I wasn’t even thinking of going to the NBA because I didn’t like how I left my mark at Kentucky. I just had to come back and leave as a better basketball player.”
Of course, Kentucky is synonymous with needing only one season to prepare players for the NBA. In John Calipari’s nine seasons as coach, 21 UK freshmen have been picked in a first round of an NBA Draft.
As a five-star prospect with a consensus top-20 ranking, Richards had the resume to follow UK’s well-worn path to the NBA. But it didn’t happen.
Richards scored two or fewer points in each of Kentucky’s final 10 games last season. In that span, he played single-digit minutes in all but one game. For the season, he averaged 5.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 14.7 minutes.
When asked how he’d describe the mark he made as a UK freshman, Richards said, “It had its ups and downs. It’s also just a learning process. Coach (Calipari), he always tells us, don’t take it as a loss. Take it as a learning process.”
Richards said he hoped to be more consistent as a player next season.
“I got distracted a little bit later on in the season,” he said. “So just trying to remain focused throughout the season, and hopefully become a better athlete.”
He described the distraction as “personal stuff I had to overcome.”
Richards sounded like a devotee of a quality not always abundant in the Big Blue Nation. Neither on nor off the court.
“Patience is everything,” he said. “I also know what Coach Cal talks about is don’t worry what other people are saying. Just worry about how much better you’re getting. That’s one of the things I’m trying to hopefully improve upon.”
Richards envisions a new role being part of that improvement next season. He can use his personal ups and downs last season as a team leader.
“It’s going to be a hard task for me because I’ve never really taken on a role like that,” he said.
Richards later clarified what he meant. He said he had been a lead-by-example player on previous teams, but not a vocal leader.
“I never really spoke out that much,” he said. “I guess because of my personality.”
Richards’ reticence showed itself when the Kentucky team went to WinStar Farm this week. He was skittish when offering a carrot to Triple Crown winner Justify.
“I was actually kind of scared,” he said. “I was hoping he didn’t bite my finger off.”