Mark Story

How Nick Richards can achieve something rare if he returns to UK

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.

Quick hitters from the No Fun League fellowship of sign censors:

21. Nick Richards. Kentucky’s 6-foot-11, 244-pound sophomore announced Monday that he was entering his name into the 2019 NBA Draft for evaluation while maintaining the option of returning to UK for his junior season in 2019-20.

20. Junior achievement. If Richards (4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, team-high 47 blocked shots in 2018-19) should decide to return to Kentucky for a third season, it would be a fairly rare occurrence during the John Calipari coaching era at UK.

Kentucky center Nick Richards talks about the team’s 62-56 win over Wofford in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday, March 23, 2019 in Jacksonville. UK advances on to the Midwest Region semifinals in Kansas City.

19. Five. Not counting holdover players/signees from Billy Gillispie, only five recruited, scholarship players signed by Calipari out of high school have played for UK into their junior seasons.

18. Three. Alex Poythress (2012-16), Derek Willis (2013-17) and Dominique Hawkins (2013-17) all completed four years of eligibility at Kentucky.

Hawkins and Willis
Ex-Bullitt East star Derek Willis, left, and former Madison Central star Dominique Hawkins are two of the three players signed by John Calipari at Kentucky to play all four years for UK. Alex Poythress is the third. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

17. Two. Willie Cauley-Stein (2012-15) and Marcus Lee (2013-16) both played three seasons for UK. After their junior seasons, Cauley-Stein turned pro and Lee transferred to California.

16. Twelve. Overall, 12 recruited, scholarship players have finished their eligibility at Kentucky in the Calipari era — five Billy Gillispie signees (Ramon Harris, Perry Stevenson, Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller and Jon Hood); two junior-college transfers (Eloy Vargas and Mychal Mulder); two graduate transfers (Julius Mays and Reid Travis); and the three four-year players (Poythress, Willis and Hawkins).

15. Nate Sestina. UK’s incoming graduate transfer from Bucknell has had some solid moments in games against power-five conference foes over the prior two seasons.

Nate Sestina
Nate Sestina, left, will join Kentucky next season as a graduate transfer after averaging 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds this past season for Bucknell. Marco Garcia AP

14. TCU. In Bucknell’s 82-65 loss to Big 12 foe Texas Christian in this past season’s Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, the 6-9, 245-pound Sestina had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

13. Ohio State. In Bucknell’s 73-71 loss in Columbus to an Ohio State team that would go on to reach the NCAA Tournament round of 32, Sestina had 10 points and three rebounds in spite of fouling out in 14 minutes.

12. North Carolina. During the 2017-18 season, Sestina had seven points and six rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench in Bucknell’s 93-81 loss to UNC in the Dean Dome.

11. Michigan State. In an 82-78 defeat to Michigan State in the 2018 NCAA Tournament round of 64, Sestina hit three of four shots and finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes as a reserve.

10. V.J. King. Louisville Coach Chris Mack told Louisville radio sports talk host Drew Deener on Thursday morning that King will not return to U of L to play his final season of college hoops even if he removes his name from the 2019 NBA Draft.

9. UK Hoops. ESPN women’s college basketball bracketologist Charlie Creme has Matthew Mitchell, Rhyne Howard and Co. ranked No. 12 in the country in his “Way Too Early Top 25” for the 2019-20 season.

8. Good news, bad news. At No. 12, Creme ranks Kentucky two spots ahead of intrastate rival Louisville. However, he also has three SEC teams — No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 8 Mississippi State and No. 9 South Carolina — picked ahead of UK.

7. Shemera Williams. A 5-8 guard from Milwaukee who was the nation’s leading scorer (39.9 ppg) in high school girls’ basketball as a junior in 2017-18, Williams made an official recruiting visit to Kentucky last weekend. Once committed to Marquette, Williams reopened her recruitment after a coaching change.

6. Six. Prior to 2019, Kentucky has had six players selected in the top five of an NFL Draft — Bob Gain (No. 5 in 1951), Babe Parilli (No. 4 in 1952), Lou Michaels (No. 4 in 1958), Art Still (No. 2 in 1978), Tim Couch (No. 1 in 1999), and Dewayne Robertson (No. 4 in 2003).

Former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch posed with Cleveland Browns owner Al Lerner after being the No. 1 overall selection in the 1999 NFL Draft in New York. Mark Lennihan AP

5. Bragging rights for UK. Kentucky is widely expected to have more football players chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft than Louisville or Western Kentucky.

4. 2012. That may not sound like a big deal, but UK has not led the commonwealth in NFL Draft picks since 2012 (two for UK, one for U of L, none for WKU).

3. The count since 2012. Starting in 2013, Louisville has had the most NFL Draft picks three times; Western Kentucky has had the most one time; WKU and U of L have tied once; and WKU and UK tied once.

2. Ten. The most players a Kentucky school has ever had selected in one NFL Draft was 10 by Louisville in 2015.

1. Nine. The most players UK has ever had selected in one NFL Draft was nine in 1951.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.