In Kentucky’s exhibition victory over Georgetown College on Sunday evening, UK junior center Nick Richards managed an impressive six points (3-3 FG) five rebounds, and one block in 15 minutes of action.
At the 19:03 mark in the second half, though, Richards landed on the foot of Georgetown guard Jake Ohmer on a closeout on the perimeter, causing the 6-foot-11 to roll his left ankle and miss the remainder of the game.
Nick Richards ankle roll. pic.twitter.com/K9Uk1kk5Mm
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 27, 2019
During the postgame press conference, Kentucky head coach John Calipari said Richards’ ankle was “swelled up,” adding that SEC Network commentator Jimmy Dykes told him after the game that the UK center “rolled it pretty good.”
After several days of complete silence on Kentucky’s end of things, the school announced this afternoon that Richards was “day-to-day” with a sprained left ankle.
Though that was the extent of the update to the general public, the Kentucky assistant coaches were all available to the media to answer questions about the team’s upcoming matchup against Kentucky State University on Friday evening, allowing for a bit more clarity on Richards’ injury status.
In terms of a general timetable for a return, Kentucky assistants Joel Justus and Tony Barbee mostly stuck to the script.
When asked whether or not we’d see Richards against Kentucky State on Friday, and more importantly, against Michigan State to open the season on Tuesday, neither coach was certain.
“He’s kind of day-to-day, I guess. That’s what we’re being told,” Justus said. “He’s just day-to-day right now. … Whenever he comes back, he’s going to be ready. He’s going to be fired up and ready to go.”
“He’s day-to-day, from what I saw and heard from the medical staff. He’s day-to-day with his injury,” Barbee added. “I don’t have the slightest idea [on when he’ll return to the floor] other than the fact that he is day-to-day.”
As for UK associate head coach Kenny Payne, he was quick to admit that things didn’t look too promising at the time of the injury.
Now with a promising “day-to-day” tag, Payne is now focused on coming up with a gameplan until Richards is able to return to action.
“It looked bad. You could tell the kid was in pain,” the associate head coach said. “Hopefully he’ll be okay. It’s an injury, it happens every day. We’ve just got to find a way to make up for it.”
While he isn’t certain when we’d see Richards return to the floor, Barbee is pleased with how diligent the junior center has been during the rehab process and knows he’s chomping at the bit to return to the floor with his Kentucky teammates.
“I didn’t look at it. I saw the replay, but it’s no different than any other sprained ankle you see,” he said. “Nick has been diligent in his rehab and I know he’s going to do whatever he needs to do to get back with the team on the court, even starting tomorrow. But who knows at this point, I’m not the trainers and I’m not the doctors.”
Whenever that time comes, Justus is excited for Richards to show off just how hard he’s been working since he announced he would be withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning for a junior season at Kentucky.
“Nick has had a really good summer, came back motivated after he decided to [withdraw from the NBA Draft],” he said. “We’re extremely happy with his development, how he has come back in great shape, he’s winning sprints. You can tell he is a guy who is on a mission. Whenever he is back and ready to go, I think you’re going to see the guy you saw in the first half the other night against Georgetown. He’s an imposing guy in the paint who is attempting to block shots. He’s a guy we can throw the ball to [in the paint]. We’re excited to get him back whenever that time is.”
When asked about how important Richards is to this team, Barbee was quick to say that all players and their roles on the roster are vital to the team’s success this season.
As for Richards specifically, the Kentucky assistant said his “experience up front” will be needed sooner rather than later.
“[Richards’ absence is] no different than anyone else on this team. We need them all,” Barbee said. “They all have to play an important role, it’s no different than the past teams we’ve had or last year’s team. They’re all important in their roles on this team. Nick’s experience up front will be badly needed [moving forward].”
While Barbee’s response was more team-focused, Payne was fairly blunt in his assessment of how important Richards is to the roster.
To put it simply, Kentucky doesn’t just need Richards on the floor, they need him to dominate if they have dreams of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament this year.
“I hope that everyone who watched us playing our first exhibition game realizes just how important Nick Richards is to this program,” Payne said. “We need him more than any time ever. The last two years we’ve had a Reid Travis or PJ Washington who could dominate, but now it’s Nick’s time. This team, I hate to say it, a lot of the things that are going to happen winning or losing and success wise falls on Nick and EJ (Montgomery).”