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Kentucky Basketball Preview: The time is now for Nick Richards

Will Richards finally put it all together? Kentucky’s ceiling hinges on it.

Buffalo v Kentucky Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It’s a rare occurrence for a John Calipari recruit to return to Lexington for his third year, but that’s exactly what the Kentucky Wildcats will have in Junior Nick Richards this season.

While Richards has been harshly criticized throughout his tenure with the Cats, there have been flashes of the brilliance and potential that made him so highly touted coming out of high school.

The only question is: Will he finally put it all together?

Nick Richards

  • Position: Center
  • Class: Junior
  • Measurements: 6-11, 244 lbs.
  • Hometown: Kingston, Jamaica
  • School: The Patrick School (New Jersey)
  • Recruit Rankings: No. 18 nationally, No. 2 C via 247Sports Composite Rankings

Richards came into Kentucky with high expectations. The 6-11 center was ranked in the top 20 by all the major recruiting services and was a consensus five-star prospect.

He held offers from the likes of the Arizona Wildcats, Kansas Jayhawks, and Villanova Wildcats. Richards was also the Mr. New Jersey Basketball winner in 2017 and participated in the McDonald’s All American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic, Nike Hoop Summit and the Elite 24.

Despite having only played a few years of basketball, 247Sports’ Scouting Report was confident in his potential, as was basically everyone else:

Nick Richards is a highly promising rim protector who soars for blocks, rebounds and general defensive menace. A strong, physical center prospect, Richards is a fine athlete who will flash signs of a potential on the offensive end, but for the time being he’s clearly at his best on the other end of the court. Richards is a very good area rebounder. He plays the game with energy and doesn’t mind physical play, especially on the defensive end. At this stage, he’s one of the better rebounders and rim protectors in the 2017 class.

However, while UK knew Richards was a project, his freshman season still didn’t go according to plan. Most preseason NBA Draft boards had Richards projected as a mid-first round pick. It’s safe to say those projections will never come to fruition.

In year one, Richards started all 37 games for the Cats, albeit his playing decreased as the season went on. He averaged 5.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game, and scored in double figures in seven games, including a career-high 25-point, 15-rebound effort vs. Fort Wayne.

He led the team in rebounding in eight games and in blocks in 12 games. And he finished the season ranking second on the team in total blocks (33) and fourth in rebounds (163).

It wasn’t a great first year, but the 25-point, 15-rebound game was something that fans and coaches, alike, could hold onto for hope moving forward.

Going into Richards’ sophomore season, there was both skepticism and optimism surrounding the big man. However, the optimism prevailed before the season even started as Richards looked like he drastically improved in the Bahamas, averaging 12.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in four wins against professional opponents.

That proved to be somewhat of a fluke.

He did appear in all 37 games last season, posting a career-high 47 blocks, which led the team. He also led UK in blocks in a team-high 16 games and posted two double-figure scoring games and two double-figure rebounding games.

Richards also had another “oh that’s what we’ve been waiting for” type game against the Southern Illinois Salukis. He scored eight points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds, to go along with three blocks in a career-high 27 minutes. The 19 rebounds were the most by a UK player since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hauled in 19 vs. Louisville in 2011, and the 19 rebounds also matched SIU’s team total.

But that ended up being all for not, as Richards finished the season averaging 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. That was a drop from his already unimpressive freshman stats, but to be fair, he was playing behind PJ Washington and Reid Travis.

Now, it’s more important than ever that Kentucky gets the potential we’ve all seen out of Richards. He will play a huge part in the success of the program this season, simply because the Cats don’t really have many other options.

Richards has already had a bit of a setback, as a sprained ankle suffered in Kentucky’s first exhibition game could cost him a few games to start the season. But before he got hurt vs. Georgetown College, Richards was playing well as he made a big impact on defense and showed signs of improvement from last year.

The focus now will be on limiting mental errors, finishing simple plays, and defending the rim.

This will likely be Richards’ last season in the blue and white, as he’ll be 22 years old by the time next year’s NBA Draft rolls around.

So, which Nick Richards will Kentucky get this season?

We’ll soon find out.