Nick Richards will be returning to Kentucky next season for his third year in Lexington. He made the announcement on Tuesday.
This might be no news at all to some people, or at least unsurprising, but there was a very real possibility Richards could have stayed in the draft, or even transferred. The 21-year-old big man opted to test the NBA Draft waters, and at his age, he may have thought it was time to move on to professional basketball and start making a living for himself, something that we’ve seen more players do in recent years after two-year stays in Lexington.
Coming into Kentucky, the 6-11 center was ranked as a five-star, top-20 prospect by all major recruiting services. He was projected to be a first round pick before his freshman season started, but it hasn’t exactly gone as planned.
Despite starting all 37 games as a freshman, Richards only averaged 5.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game. However, he showed flashes of his potential, like putting up a 25-15 game in his first year in Lexington. He just hasn’t put it all together yet.
Richards chose to return for a sophomore season, opting not to even test the waters. It wasn’t an option for him. He was right where he wanted to be and knew he had a lot to work on.
The Big Blue Nation was split on their expectations for Richards going into this past season. He was dominant in the Bahamas and fans finally started believing in him again. But he still just wasn’t there yet.
With the addition of Reid Travis and the return of PJ Washington, Richards’ minutes dropped as did his overall production. After starting all 37 games as a freshman, Richards only started three as a sophomore.
That’s not to say he was worse in his sophomore season compared to his freshman season. To the contrary, I think he improved tremendously, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
In his sophomore campaign, Richards averaged 3.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. That included one heck of a performance against Vanderbilt back in February when he put up 14 points.
Of course, he’s not the dominant post presence we’ve become accustomed to under Coach Cal, but he’s what many fans have begged for: a three or four-year player.
Remember, Richards had only been playing basketball for a handful of years before arriving at Kentucky. He was raw, but had a lot of potential with his length and athleticism.
Now, we just have to hope that we see steady improvement, and hopefully, a big step in the right direction next season. The Kentucky Wildcats will be low on frontcourt options next year, so Richards better get that skyhook ready to go.
Personally, I’m excited to have Richards back for his junior season. because I think he’s going to continue to get better and he seems like a great kid to have in the program.
A veteran big man is also always nice to have, and now we can continue to watch Richards grow as a basketball player.
Richards now joins a frontcourt that includes Nate Sestina, Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks. Kentucky is still waiting on EJ Montgomery’s NBA Draft decision, as well as Virginia Tech grad transfer Kerry Blackshear, who may keep his name in the draft as well.
As of now, there’s a very real chance Montgomery and Blackshear remain in the draft, making Richards’ decision all the more important for the 2019-20 basketball Cats.
Heck, one analyst even said that Richards was more important for Kentucky than Montgomery, which actually makes sense when you look at the current roster setup.
Montgomery wants to be a stretch 4 who can play on the perimeter or in the post. That’s exactly the kind of role Whitney and Brooks will likely have next season as they split time between the 3 and 4 spots. Sestina is also a stretch big who will play mostly at the 4.
But Kentucky does not have a true center outside of Richards, so keeping him was vital for next year’s team. If he continues to improve, he could be a force in the paint next season, something Kentucky desperately needs if they don’t land another big man.