The 6’11/240 pound Nick Richards has the look of a big-time college basketball player.
Big Blue Nation was excited when he committed to the Kentucky Wildcats, and the blow of losing out on Mohammed Bamba was lessened because Richards was already in the fold.
At the beginning of the season, he was listed as a 2018 first-round pick by many of the draft services. Though raw, he still possessed the framework one needed to fit the mold of what John Calipari looks for in a big man: long, athletic, with the ability to block shots and effect offenses.
Early in the season against Fort Wayne, Richards looked as if he turned a corner.
He had 25 points and 15 rebounds and looked unstoppable. Calipari finally had the big man he had been coveting.
But after that, his stats started to dwindle and so did his playing time. He eclipsed the double-digit scoring mark only five more times that season after the Fort Wayne game. He never got into double-digit rebounds again. He started every game but only averaged 14.7 minutes per game.
And his stats left a lot to be desired: 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Yes, Nick Richards was a disappointment, but that doesn’t mean he should be written off for this season.
Richards’s former high school coach, Mike Rice, has all of the faith in the world for a bounce back season:
“Building that confidence and building those positive instincts is just a process. He’s going to put weight on, and I think he’s going to have a monster sophomore year”, Rice said of Richards.
So what can Richards improve upon in order to reach this “monster” potential?
As the season wore on, he looked more and more uncomfortable in his role on the court. He was out of position on both sides of the ball more often than not. He couldn’t finish an alley-oop dunk or, at times, even get his hands on a rebound. All of that reeks of low self-esteem.
When asked about Richards, John Calipari seemed to have agreed with this assessment of Richards’ struggles on the court. When discussing Richards this offseason, Calipari made confidence a keyword in describing what he needs to do.
“He’s gotten way more comfortable, way more confident, way more physical, but he’s going to have to demonstrate performance in games so that he builds his own confidence,” said Calipari. “It’s not what I’m going to do or what I say. He’s got to go do it.”
Skal Labissiere went through many of the same struggles as Richards did when he was a freshman at UK. Skal ended up performing much better in the NBA than many had believed he would have. I think a sophomore year at Kentucky would have done wonders for Skal. Alas we didn’t get the opportunity to see that.
We will get the opportunity to see if Richards can make a leap.
But it’s not going to be easy. Cal is flush with big men. With the additions of five-star freshman EJ Montgomery and five-star transfer Reid Travis, minutes are not going to be easy to come by.
Like Cal said, Richards is going to have to do it. There will be no margin for error in year two. Richards won’t get the pity starts that he did a season ago. Calipari will have options, and he won’t think twice if Richards is buried on the bench.
The Bahamas will be the first opportunity for Nick to show us his new found confidence.