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Nick Richards drafted by Pelicans and traded to Hornets

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Richards will team up with several former Wildcats in Charlotte.

Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

Nick Richards is now officially an NBA player.

Wednesday’s NBA Draft saw the former Kentucky Wildcats center selected 42nd overall by the New Orleans Pelicans and traded to the Charlotte Hornets. He’ll team up with former Wildcats Malik Monk and PJ Washington.

Richards is coming off the most productive season of his career. After averaging 4.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks over 13.4 minutes a game in the first two seasons, Richards turned into an All-SEC First Team player in 2019-20.

The 6-11 big man out of Jamaica led the Cats in rebounding (7.8 per game), blocks (2.1 per game) and double-doubles (10) to go along with a conference-high .644 field-goal percentage and 14.0 points per game. His field-goal percentage ranked fourth in the nation.

“Of all the kids that we’ve coached who have elevated and benefited from the culture we’ve built here, I would say Nick is at the top of the list,” head coach John Calipari said when Richards entered the draft. “Nick’s ability to self-evaluate and block out the clutter for the last three seasons has shown incredible maturity. To be able to look inward and say, ‘I need more time and I wouldn’t trade this time at Kentucky for anything in the world,’ says a lot about Nick.

“What Nick has been able to do with his body, his mind and mastering his skills, it’s been incredible and rewarding to watch as a coach. It’s been a pleasure to see him grow into the player and the young man he has become, and he’s done it all because of his hard work and his dedication. It has all paid off.

“Nick will leave here as a fan favorite and deservedly so because of the way he’s handled himself both on and off the court. He’s become the best version of himself and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Richards was one of four players in the country to average at least 13.5 points per game, at least 7.5 rebounds and at least 2.0 blocks while shooting at least 60.0% from the floor. He was in the 98th percentile of offensive efficiency in the Synergy national rankings and in the 88th percentile on defense. He won two national player of the week honors in 2019-20 and was a two-time SEC Player of the Week honoree.

Richards played well early in the season, but his rise began vs. Louisville and continued into the conference season. Against the Cardinals’ frontline, one of the best in the country, Richards delivered a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards, but it was his play in overtime that carried the Wildcats to victory over their biggest rivals.

Playing the final 8:53 of regulation and all five minutes of overtime with four fouls, Richards avoided fouling out and scored seven straight points in overtime with the game on the line. With Louisville leading 68-65 with 2:21 to go in overtime, Richards grabbed an offensive board (one of six in the game) and converted a three-point play to even the score once again. His free throws with 27 seconds remaining gave the Wildcats a 72-70 lead they would not surrender.

That double-double was Richards’ first against a ranked opponent in his three seasons. In 20 games prior vs. ranked foes, Richards averaged 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He had never recorded double-digit scoring or rebounding numbers against a ranked opponent.

Richards would do it again vs. a then-top 25 Texas Tech squad with a 25-point, 14-rebound, four-block outing, including the game-winning free throws with 10 seconds left. He became just the second Wildcat in the Calipari era to post at least 25 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in a game. The other was National Player of the Year Anthony Davis in 2012.

Another of his biggest performances was his 27-point, 11-rebound game vs. Mississippi State, including 25 points in the second half.

Richards led the Wildcats with 66 blocks, including 18 games with multiple rejections. He blocked seven shots vs. Lamar, the first Wildcat with seven or more swats since Karl-Anthony Towns in 2014-15. He also blocked six at LSU.

Richards finished his career ranked third all-time in program history with a career field-goal percentage of .628 with a minimum of 50 attempts. He also ranks 10th all-time with 146 career blocks, and his 528 rebounds rank 46th.

Coming into the draft, Richards was being projected to go undrafted in a lot of mock drafts, so it’s great to see him go in the middle of Round 2.

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