Nick Richards, your team demands your help. Your head coach, John Calipari, said so.
“We need Nick,” Calipari said Tuesday night, following Kentucky’s win over South Carolina, in which Richards played only 11 minutes due to foul trouble (and others playing so well). “Nick has to give us 15 to 20 minutes a game. He’s got to be playing.”
And when Cal says playing, he really means hustling, because Richards can do what no one else can when he is giving maximum effort.
Offensively, Kentucky is all set. If offense was the team’s only need for success, they could proceed on to March without Richards. But Kentucky needs a rim protector and Richards is built for it, more so than anyone else in college basketball.
Against South Carolina, Richards hit an impressive jump hook over the outstretched arms of a defender. It earned a loud roar from the Rupp Arena crowd and from his teammates on the bench. But UK doesn’t need that from him, Cal says.
“It has nothing to do with jump hooks or shots,” Cal told reporters. “I like that because it makes him smile, but get in there and fight like crazy and rebound and block shots and fly up and down this court. Let us throw you lobs. There’s no one in the game of college basketball like him, but he’s got to go perform.”
Calipari recently stopped a practice to call out Richards in front of his teammates, to remind him of how much he is needed for the team to hit another level. They’re constantly pushing him and he’s not far from finding it within himself.
“He’s close,” Cal said Tuesday night. “Just like E.J. I’m telling you, Nick is close. But we can’t do it for him. He’s got to do it for himself. He’s got to prove to himself. Demonstrative performance will build his own confidence.”