While all eyes and ears have been focused on EJ Montgomery and his ongoing decision between a sophomore season and a chance at the NBA, another question mark is being partially overlooked. Nick Richards is facing the same decision as his teammate, and while his potential may not be as high as Montgomery’s, is Richards’ decision more important for Kentucky’s future?
At least one person thinks so. National basketball analyst Corey Evans, of Rivals.com, claims Nick Richards’ decision will have a larger impact on UK’s success next season than EJ Montgomery’s. Off the bat, Evans is clear he believes Montgomery is a more skilled basketball player. On the other hand, Richards brings something more unique to the Cats’ roster – his height.
As it stands now, Richards (who’s 6-foot-11) is the only player listed above 6-foot-8. His ability to block shots and protect the rim is something we’ve seen glimpses of, and we know the potential is there, based on his wingspan and some of the more-impressive blocks we’ve seen throughout the past two seasons. Has he blocked as much as fans would like or as the coaching staff may have expected? Probably not. But he did finish the season with 47 total blocks (1.3 rejections per game), more than any other player on the roster. He was followed by PJ Washington’s 43 and Montgomery’s 38.
While EJ Montgomery and Nate Sestina will play more-similar styles, Richards’ is the only guy on Kentucky’s current roster who has this particular skill set. Here’s how Evans puts it:
“For Kentucky’s sake, though, Richards is a big body that can rebound and alter shots, assets that not many on its current roster can claim to do, which would be the perfect complement to the wealth of perimeter firepower set to enroll.”
Evans goes on to point out Richards’ age – he’ll be 22 years old by the time next year’s Draft rolls back around. Even though he’d be junior Nick Richards, he’d already be the age of most graduating seniors.
For me personally, Montgomery’s potential and build still puts him highest on my priority list of returners. Aaron Torres even calls him the most important stay-or-go prospect in the Draft. And yet, Corey Evans makes an excellent point in singling-out Richards’ individual assets that are unfamiliar to the rest of Kentucky’s roster.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. is listed at 6-foot-10, and his presence in the front court could have a massive impact on the Cats’ success next season. But much like Richards and Montgomery, his future is still viewed as a question mark, and there seems to be growing suspicion he’ll try his hand at the NBA Draft.
There’s also a distinction to be made between a sophomore Montgomery, a junior Nick Richards and a grad transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., as Kentucky has seen what a few years of experience can do for the locker room and down the stretch of the season. None of these guys are the same as Reid Travis, but it’s reasonable to compare their levels of experience, especially under the spotlight that comes with UK Basketball.
The NCAA’s deadline for players to withdraw from this year’s NBA Draft and retain their college eligibility is 11:59 p.m. this Wednesday.