Kentucky entered the season with high expectations, but so far, they’ve struggled to live up to them.
Sure, a 6-1 start itself isn’t a big disappointment, but the issue has been how much certain players have struggled to live up to their lofty preseason hype.
One of them is Nick Richards, who looked like a different player in the Bahamas than what we saw from his freshman year, where too often, he was timid and soft to keep on the floor for more than 10ish minutes a game.
Unfortunately, Richards has reverted to some old bad habits, and it’s led to his playing time disappearing. He didn’t check in Wednesday’s win over Monmouth until late in the first half, then didn’t get back in until the game was already well at hand.
On Friday, associate head coach Kenny Payne met with the media to preview Saturday’s matchup with UNC-Greensboro. He also talked about several Wildcats who need to step up for this Kentucky team to reach its potential, namely Richards.
Payne was asked of Richards’ regular season thus far vs. how he played in the Bahamas, something that has even Payne puzzled.
“If we could figure that out. First of all I think Nick showed what he is capable of in the Bahamas. Same player, Different mindset. And so, what we have to do is – what Nick has to do is figure it out in his mind. We haven’t given up on Nick, but we’re not going to hand it to him.
“One of the things that Cal has done with all of these kids is he’s put it on them to figure it out. We’ve tried multiple things – starting him hoping that turns a light on. But at the end of the day Nick has to take ownership of how he plays, how he approaches the game.
“I had a conversation with him a couple of days ago. I said, ‘Can you soot the ball?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can you shoot right-hand, left-hand jump hooks?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can you drop step? Can you block shots? Can you sprint the floor? Are you in shape? I’ve done my part. The rest is on you.’
“And that’s just what it is. And he will figure it out. And when he does we’re going to be a much better team because of him. We’re just not going to hand it to him.”
One of the biggest culprits here is simply Richards losing his confidence far too easily. When he believes in himself, he’s a different player, but far too often in his first two college seasons, he’s lost his confidence and gone into a shell.
Learning to fight through the struggles and keep believing in himself is something Richards has to learn before he can take his game to the next level.
“I think Coach Cal has reached that point. The balance is a thin line. A lot of people look at – and I’ll say this a different way of saying it – it’s hard for people to evaluate non-confident athletes. It’s easy for an evaluation to just say, ‘Well, he doesn’t quite have it.’
“Oh, he has it. You just haven’t seen him at his best and how he feels is a part of who he is as a player. Nick is going to be fine. I’m not worried about it. He just has to digest it, grow up, fight for it and it’s just not going to be handed to him. He started just about every game last year. Coach is saying, ‘It’s time for you to be a man. Man up.’ ”
Doesn’t get much simpler than that. Either Richards will man up or, he’ll continue to sit down.