Let’s face it, at Kentucky, we are (just a little) spoiled.
Year after year during the John Calipari era, Kentucky loads up on star freshmen that are expected to contribute in major fashion right away. We’ve seen it happen so many times. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, Karl-Anthony Towns, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and so on and so forth... just to name a few.
Kentucky’s model is built on freshmen stepping into star roles either right away or after a couple months. So far it has worked with few exceptions.
But sometimes, freshmen come in that play... well, like a lot of freshmen play. So is the case, in my opinion, of Kentucky big man Nick Richards.
Richards came in as a top-20 recruit, a near seven-footer with long arms known for being a solid shot-blocker and rebounder with a limited offensive repertoire. The Jamaican-born big man is still relatively new to the game of basketball, having only played for four or five years.
With known holes in his game and a lack of experience, stepping in as a key contributor was going to always be a tall task for Richards. After all, he would be filling the shoes of guys like Cousins, Davis, Noel, Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Bam Adebayo before him.
Richards had his moments during his freshmen season. It’s hard to forget the 25 point, 15 rebound performance against Fort Wayne, but he also had decent performances against Virginia Tech (8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks in 22 minutes) and was a big part of Kentucky’s comeback win in Morgantown against West Virginia.
There were plenty of forgettable moments for Richards throughout the season, but he showed the potential is there and that is why having him back for a sophomore season could be huge for Kentucky next year.
We know Kentucky should be fine in the backcourt next season with the likely return of Quade Green and Jemarl Baker, as well as incoming freshmen Immanuel Quickley and Tyler Herro, AND the possibility of adding 2019 guard Ashton Hagans, who could reclassify to 2018.
P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Sacha Killeya-Jones all figure into the frontcourt rotation next year if they all return, but there could definitely be a role for a sophomore Nick Richards as a big guy who can rebound, defend, block shots, and be a deterrent at the rim.
Offensively, he still has a ways to go, but we should definitely see an improvement on that side as well. Richards has a really nice form on his jumper. Hopefully we will see him develop that into a consistent mid-range game going into next year.
The important thing to remember is that Richards is still relatively new to basketball and will continue to go through some growing pains. Interestingly enough, Richards and Willie Cauley-Stein’s numbers their freshman seasons aren’t too far apart.
- Willie Cauley-Stein (2012-2013): 23.6 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 1.7 TO.
- Per 100 possessions: 21.2 points, 15.7 rebounds, Offensive rating- 106.7, Defensive rating- 91.6
- Nick Richards (2017-2018): 14.7 mpg, 5.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 0.7 TO.
- Per 100 possessions: 19.9 points, 17.3 rebounds, Offensive rating- 126.5, Defensive rating- 99.2
This isn’t to say that Richards will be on the level of WCS. Willie was a defensive nightmare for teams with the ability to guard all five positions and being a top-level shot blocking force.
But Richards is an athletic big man that should be able to switch off some pick and rolls as he gains a better feel for the game and leverage his 7’5” wingspan into an increase in blocked shots.
At Kentucky, it’s hard for freshmen who don’t succeed immediately. People often look at those players as guys that failed to meet expectations or will never pan out. Richards, however, is a guy that probably needs to play college basketball for two, three, or maybe even four years and there’s no doubt that he has a very high ceiling and could be a force for Kentucky in the near future.
We just have to be patient with him.