UK Men's Basketball

‘Basic basketball things’ dictate which big men fit in UK’s rotation

It’s up to Nick Richards to figure it out

Kentucky assistant basketball coach Kenny Payne talks about sophomore center Nick Richards, who has struggled in the early season. UK plays host to UNC Greensboro on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
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Kentucky assistant basketball coach Kenny Payne talks about sophomore center Nick Richards, who has struggled in the early season. UK plays host to UNC Greensboro on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

A scoreboard shows who’s winning and losing when Kentucky plays. But the question of the day Thursday was how UK determines who’s winning and losing in the internal competition among the team’s four “bigs.”

By definition, Coach John Calipari’s preference for a three-player rotation among the big men means less playing time for the fourth man. As of late, that player has been Nick Richards, who got in for only one minute against UNC Greensboro last weekend.

Richards hasn’t played more than 12 minutes in a game since Nov. 14. Calipari has repeatedly said that Richards can get more playing time in practice.

But how does a “big” move up or down in Kentucky’s so-called depth chart?

“It’s not cut and dry exactly as far as him telling you these are the three,” said Reid Travis, whose 37 minutes against UNC Greensboro raised his average playing time to 25.3 minutes. “You can tell how you’re performing in practice.”

It’s not a matter of moving up by posting and scoring against an opposing big man, Travis said.

What he called “basic basketball things” in practice bring upward or downward mobility.

“You’re bringing energy,” Travis said. “You’re talking. You’re engaged. You’re defending. You’re blocking shots. Getting out on screens.

“It’s not as hard as you’d think. . . . If you’re playing the way you’re supposed to play, everybody in the gym can see that who knows basketball. It’s about doing the right things.”

As for Richards, he’s apparently moved in the right direction lately. “Did some good stuff yesterday,” Calipari said. “Really good. I’m happy for him.”

On the offensive end, Calipari said UK’s “bigs” are preoccupied with drawing fouls and getting to the foul line. He’d prefer they concentrate on scoring.

“Trying to draw fouls versus trying to score,” Calipari said.

EJ Montgomery, the least bulky of UK’s “bigs,” is an exception.

“He runs from contact,” Calipari said. “That’s why he’s not drawing the fouls.”

Shooting a fade-away usually draws Calipari’s ire. But in the context of Kentucky’s big men this season, the coach accepts Montgomery’s approach.

“I’m good with that because he’s trying to score even though he fades away,” Calipari said.

As for playing time, the onus will remain on Richards – and UK’s other three “bigs” (PJ Washington, Montgomery and Travis) – to compete for the three available spots in the rotation.

Calipari said he prefers the three-player rotation because it can prevent two players from slacking off in practice, thus limiting the competition for the two starters.

Of course, three players in a rotation means someone gets left out. Calipari did not sound sympathetic.

“I’ve got to coach to win,” he said. “I’ll deal with egos later. I like the fact they’ve got to compete for their time.”

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