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What UK’s 3 sophomores must bring this season

The ‘veterans’ will play a major role in Kentucky’s quest for banner No. 9.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky Media Day
PJ, Nick, and Quade at UK Media Day
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky’s best basketball teams have paired star-studded freshman classes with strong options returning from years past.

In 2012, Anthony Davis’ class joined Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller to win a national title. In 2015, Kentucky went 38-1 after pairing Karl Towns’ class with sophomore and juniors like the Harrison twins and Willie Cauley-Stein.

There’s an obvious correlation between experience and winning and it’s not hard to explain, yet it is in Lexington, because John Calipari and the kentucky Wildcats don’t often have that luxury.

This season, though, UK returns three sophomores that will each play their own key role in this teams success. They came back to raise their own stock and to take another crack at a title, and this is what each of them must bring this year to get a chance to accomplish both.

Nick Richards

Last season, Nick Richards was the most frustrating player from his class. At 6-11 and having started every game of his freshman season, it was hard to understand how Richards was only fourth on the team in total rebounds, averaging only 4.4 a game.

It just seemed as if he were lost for most of the year, but these growing pains taught Richards lessons he will need for a standout sophomore season. What Richards must bring is consistency from the center position. He may be the x-factor for Kentucky if the Bahama’s version of Richards is who we get all season, as he looked way more comfortable and confident in every facet of his game.

With a loaded frontcourt, Nick can emerge and make a difference on the defensive end with his blocks and rebounds and offensively by finishing on his opportunities. His baseline jump-shot and hook-shot both looked more assertive and his movements as whole were way more fluid. He’s definitely a candidate and the most likely contender for a “Most-Improved Player” award in UK’s locker room, if not the nation.

Quade Green

Kentucky fans couldn’t help but feel a little bad for Quade Green when Shai-Gilgeous Alexander got the opportunity to start at point guard and never relented it back. Shai earned every bit of what he received, but Green wasn’t playing bad.

Green averaged 9 points and 3 assists per game while shooting a respectable 37.6% from 3-point range. For Green to capitalize on his sophomore season, he needs to knock down shots and create when necessary.

Green may be one of the better shooters in this group, and his killer mentality will lead him to hoisting it when he gets the space. As long as he continues to knock them down, opposing teams will have to respect him from outside. When the shots aren’t falling from deep, though, he has a nice pull-up jumper, can finish strong amongst defenders, and has the play-making ability to control the offense.

Green can affect the game in multiple ways, but specifically on offense where he will have a lot of opportunity to build up what he may have missed out on from last season.

PJ Washington

Kentucky fans rejoiced when PJ Washington announced his intent to pull his name from the 2018 NBA Draft and return for his sophomore season. Washington was the Wildcats’ third-leading scorer last season at 10.8 points per game and their leading rebounder with 211 total with an average of 5.7 a contest.

With PJ looking to raise his draft stock for next summer, he needs to show off an overall display of playmaking, efficient scoring, and defense. A comparison we’ve heard for PJ is former Michigan State star and current Golden State Warriors All-Star Draymond Green, and it’s not that unimaginable.

There’s no question that Washington is an animal down low and the combination of he and Reid Travis could be the most physical frontcourt in college basketball, but NBA scouts aren’t evaluating just this aspect anymore in their big-man prospects.

Washington will have to make plays for others from his position, score at an efficient clip like he did in the Bahamas (he shot 51.4% from the field and 42.9% from three), and show continued improvement on the defensive end, as he was third in blocks average and fourth in steals average last season.

Many mock draft projections have PJ as a late-first-round pick, and if he does these things for the Cats this season, he can meet his personal goals of getting drafted next summer while helping Kentucky reach its goal as a team of a 2019 National Championship.