Ashton Hagans reaction to Richards, Montgomery returning to Kentucky
Of course, Kentucky’s returning “bigs” saw how PJ Washington breathed life into the premise that a player can significantly boost his NBA Draft profile by playing another season of college basketball.
During an interview session Friday, the “bigs” offered different takes on how Washington’s example impacted their decisions to return to UK.
Nick Richards downplayed the premise that Washington’s example served as a factor in his decision to return to UK for a third season.
“What PJ did last year really had no effect on my decision,” he said. “Everyone has their own path. I’m just going on my path. My path was to just come back another year and improve as a basketball player.”
Meanwhile, EJ Montgomery suggested Washington’s example was one he could follow.
“Each person is his own person,” he said. “But I definitely saw what PJ did when he came back. We worked together all the time. I saw the work he put in. I feel I can do the same thing.”
To review: Washington entered his name in the 2018 NBA Draft. He returned to UK and met his objectives of becoming more impactful and improving as a perimeter shooter. He made a team-high 42.3 percent of his three-point shots.
This spring, UK Coach John Calipari said Montgomery could even surpass the improvement made by Washington as a sophomore.
“Definitely realistic,” Montgomery said, “because I feel I can do a lot more on the court than I showed. Just coming in and putting in the work, I can definitely show it.”
Richards and Montgomery played limited roles as backups to Reid Travis and Washington last season. Montgomery said he accepted the reality of having to “sit back and wait till I was needed.”
Earlier this spring, NBA consultants said limited playing time hindered Montgomery’s ability to establish a basketball identity last season.
“I think I can show a lot more this year than I did last year . . . ,” he said. He defined his identity as “I go hard. I can show that I’m a better shooter than I did last year. Just going after every rebound, and things like that.”
Montgomery linked his decision to return to UK to feedback he received from the NBA. He said the NBA projected him as a late first-round pick in this year’s draft. “If I came back, it’ll just be a lot higher,” he said he was told.
Calipari also set a high goal for Richards. The UK coach went so far as to say that the junior-to-be should try to develop into a uniquely impactful big man.
“Be one of the best big men in the country,” Richards said. “I’m up to the challenge. It’s not that hard for me. Basketball is a sport I love to do. It’s not pressure.”
Richards saw validation in Calipari setting a high standard. “It just makes me know he actually believes in my game,” he said.
Richards cited the quest for that kind of improvement as a reason he decided to withdraw from this year’s NBA Draft and return to UK.
“Try to be a better basketball player,” he said. “That was one of the first reasons (for) coming to this school: try to improve my basketball skills and getting ready for the next level.”
Earlier this spring, NBA consultants said Richards needed to show more desire. Richards did not dispute this assessment.
“The only thing most teams were concerned with was me being more consistent,” he said. “Everybody knows my game. They know what I can do. They just want to know if I can bring it every single night, and can I bring it to the NBA and hopefully do it for 82 games straight.”
Speaking of high standards, Richards set one when asked about the likelihood of more playing time with Washington and Travis gone next season.
“One thing I’ll probably develop more is to be more in shape,” he said. “Try to be able to play at least 40 minutes on the court.”
A smiling Richards then added, “You never know. That’s one thing I’ll try to develop.”