UK Men's Basketball

‘Dominate the game.’ Calipari sets high standard for Richards in a third Kentucky season.

Nick Richards feels like one thing has been holding the Kentucky center back

Kentucky center Nick Richards said he needs to improve in one area after a frustrating freshman season. He believes he already sees improvement.
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Kentucky center Nick Richards said he needs to improve in one area after a frustrating freshman season. He believes he already sees improvement.

In Kentucky’s final game last season, Nick Richards played 44 seconds. In UK’s final two games, he played four minutes and 47 seconds. During those cameo appearances he totaled two points and one rebound.

Yet, Richards’ announcement Tuesday that he will withdraw from this year’s NBA Draft and return to Kentucky next season as a junior was viewed as a significant development.

“I think you have to look at it as a Kentucky fan as do we want him to come back or do we need him to come back?” SEC Network analyst Jimmy Dykes said. “And the answer to that is you need him to come back because of that (lack of) front-line depth. And you need him to be a better version of himself.”

As of now, and pending EJ Montgomery’s decision about remaining in this year’s draft, UK’s “bigs” next season are Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina and Richards. The NCAA deadline for withdrawing from the NBA Draft and retaining college eligibility is 11:59 p.m. EDT Wednesday.

In a news release, UK Coach John Calipari spoke of Richards being capable of a major impact next season.

“I’m excited to continue to coach Nick because I know how special he can be,” Calipari said. “I’ve told him, ‘If you come back, I’m expecting you to be one of the best big men in the country.’

“There’s no reason he can’t be. There’s nothing that Nick hasn’t seen at this point, and he knows what my expectations are for him in his junior season. I want him to dominate the game and affect it on every single possession.”

Inconsistency has marked Richards’ two seasons for Kentucky. His averages for minutes, points and rebounds decreased as a sophomore.

“He’s had tendencies to disappear,” said Mike Pratt, the former UK player who now provides commentary on the radio broadcasts of games. “He would have those flashes, and then disappear and just get lost on the baseline or lost in the game.”

Earlier this spring, ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz said Richards could improve his draft stock next year by playing with more consistency.

“It’s always about playing with a consistent motor,” Schmitz said. “He has the tools, and the physical gifts.

“But being able to hang his hat on being an athletic shot blocker, lob catcher, staying out of foul trouble. Thinking the game at a higher level. I think those things are all important for him.”

Richards became something of a fan favorite this past season. His every positive contribution in home games sparked cheers and encouragement for more.

His sophomore season began with great promise. During UK’s four exhibition games in the Bahamas in August, he averaged 12.0 points and 4.8 rebounds. Calipari raved.

“Oh wow,” the UK coach said after Richards scored 19 points while playing less than 17 minutes in the first exhibition. “He’s, like, not the same player.”

That’s how Pratt recalled Richards’ play in the Bahamas. “He made some moves with the ball . . . great natural moves,” Pratt said. “I thought he’d turned the corner.”

In a UK news release, Richards thanked God, his family, his college teammates and coaches for helping him decide whether or not to remain in this year’s NBA Draft.

“They pushed me in the right direction that I needed to be where I am today,” he said in the news release. “These past two years have been the best of my life. It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve learned a lot, but the job’s not done yet. BBN, are you ready for Year Three?”

Dykes said a key will be for Richards to accept playing a third college season for a program that is synonymous with one-season careers.

“He can’t get down or get discouraged or give in to that pressure that in some ways is on him a little bit,” Dykes said. “He’s got to fight through that.”

Earlier this spring, a trio of Kentucky players — sophomore PJ Washington, plus freshmen Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson — announced that they would forgo their remaining college eligibility and remain in this year’s draft.

Washington served as an example this past season of the difference another college season can make.

At the Combine, Washington said he had not been part of the decision-making Richards and Montgomery faced.

“I haven’t really talked to them,” he said. “I feel like the best thing for them is to just talk to the people around them the most, and talk to Coach (Calipari) as well. I feel Coach has done a great job with all of us. He wouldn’t lie to them.”

2019-20 UK roster

After the announced departures of PJ Washington, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Jemarl Baker and the expired eligibility of Reid Travis and Jonny David, here is how Kentucky’s roster for next season looks currently (The Cats are still awaiting an NBA Draft decision from EJ Montgomery):

Dontaie Allen, 6-6 freshman forward

Keion Brooks, 6-7 freshman forward

Brad Calipari, 6-0 redshirt junior guard

Brennan Canada, 6-7 freshman forward

Ashton Hagans, 6-3 sophomore guard

Johnny Juzang, 6-6 freshman forward

Tyrese Maxey, 6-3 freshman guard

EJ Montgomery, 6-10 sophomore forward

Zan Payne, 6-4 redshirt freshman guard/forward

Immanuel Quickley, 6-3 sophomore guard

Nick Richards, 6-11 junior forward

Nate Sestina, 6-9 graduate transfer forward/center

Kahlil Whitney, 6-7 freshman forward