By Kentucky Basketball standards, the 2017-18 season was underwhelming.
Despite a trip to the Sweet 16, there was a lot of ugly moments last season. The Cats were swept in the regular season by rivals Florida and Tennessee, they lost their consecutive games streak with at least one three-pointer that lasted over 1,000 games, fell out of the AP Top 25 in the middle of the season, and suffered the worst losing streak in the John Calipari era (4 games).
With the struggles, many players returned for their sophomore season, unlike the 2016-17 team that saw all their key freshman head for the pros.
Two of those returning from last year are Nick Richards and Quade Green.
Richards struggled mightily at times. He averaged just 4.4 rebounds per game from the center position with 0.9 blocks and 5.1 points.
Despite the struggles, Richards thinks he will have a much improved season due to a climate change.
“I’m having more fun playing basketball with this group,” Richards said at Thursday’s media day. “It’s just more exciting, more competitive. Guys actually get after each other. Off the court, we don’t really hate each other. We just gel together.”
Richards went on to talk about how last year’s team struggled to cope with their rough season.
“We would have horrible practices, and the next practice, the next day, we were still thinking about that practice. Stuff like that, we didn’t really move on from (it).”
With better team chemistry, Richards seems more comfortable and feels his game will improve. It also helps that he has a beast of a man in Reid Travis to go up against every day in practice.
Richards actually says he’s holding his own.
“I wouldn’t say he bruises me up. We usually go back and forth with each other. We play to make each other better.”
In terms of leadership, Richards is glad to have returning veterans like Quade Green and PJ Washington, along with Travis, to help guide this team.
“It’s really just the three veterans from last year – me, PJ (Washington) and Quade (Green). Reid helps along the way. We just try to help the freshmen catch up. It makes life easier. It was tougher last year because we had nine freshmen on the team. We didn’t have anyone to look up to.”
Green’s freshman year was a little smoother than Richards.
Despite missing time to injury and falling behind eventual lottery pick Shai Gilgeous- Alexander on the depth chart, Green averaged 9.3 points per game and 2.7 assists per game.
Unlike Richards, Green does not see too much of a difference in this years team compared to last.
“Nothing changed with this group. Just some newcomers, and everyone gets better,” Green said.
While Green said there wasn’t much difference, he did express excitement with how hard this team is willing to work to reach their dreams.
“Everybody is willing to work. Everybody is willing to be coached by Coach Cal be, willing to put in work in the gym,” said Green. “We all just put it together, and it’s going to work on the court.”
Green, who is in noticeably better shape, said he had a great offseason of training.
“Over the summer, I just put a look a work in,” Green said. “A lot of running a lot of situps and court stuff.”
Unlike last year, Kentucky has plenty of experience on the roster. Both Richards and Green will be key factors in Kentucky trying to make it back among the elite.