Back in August, several videos leaked of Kentucky’s five-star freshman center Nick Richards playing pickup basketball in New York City with NBA stars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony, among others.
And it wasn’t a “one of these is not like the others” situation. Richards looked like he belonged.
For Kentucky’s newest man in the middle, it was a surprise to play against his idols, but it was just a glimpse into his future as an NBA big man.
“It was a really good learning experience. It was pretty fun playing against most of those guys,” Richards said. “I knew in the back of my mind I would eventually have to play against them in the future, but to see them in person, t0 see your idols turn into your rivals that quick, it was a surprise.”
So how’d he play?
“Of course I held my own against them,” Richards said with a smile.
But before he solidified himself as one of the nation’s top centers and went head-to-head with some of the NBA’s top talent, he actually started his sports career as a soccer player.
“I was 14 years old, going on 15 (when I started playing basketball),” the Kentucky center said. “I did everything but basketball. Soccer was the first sport I fell in love with. I was a goalie and a midfielder.”
Richards said his passion for soccer has helped him make massive strides on the basketball court.
“Soccer helps me with my footwork, helps me guard guards, and move up and down the floor,” he said.
Richards said he spends his free time a bit different than some of his peers. The star big man told KSR that playing FIFA, cheering for Real Madrid, and watching competitive skateboarding are three of his favorite things to do outside of basketball.
“I watch the street leagues and street tournaments,” Richards said. “Like Nyjah Huston and Ryan Sheckler, I actually follow those guys on Instagram and see what they’re doing.”
But on-court, Richards is a whole different animal. Back in high school, the Queens, NY native was known as one of the best defensive-minded centers in the nation with tremendous athleticism. Teams had an unbelievably hard time scoring on him in the paint.
His first few months at Kentucky, however, have been quite the adjustment period.
“I’m actually just taking all of this in and being as good with it as possible. Kentucky is really one of the toughest schools to be at, it’s obviously going to get you ready for the next level. But it’s been pretty fun so far,” he said.
When asked about the improvements he has seen in himself since getting on campus, Richards said he has not only seen development on the basketball court, but growth as a person off the court, as well.
“I’ve noticed a lot of improvement in my offensive game,” Richards said. “I’m more mature, my parents noticed that when I went home. I guess just me being by myself made me grow up quicker.”
With a surplus of forwards on the team, someone has to take over as the primary big man to shoulder the weight on the inside. Richards is extremely confident that person is him.
“It’s most likely going to be me, and I don’t have a problem taking on that role. It’s what the team needs to win a National Championship, and that was my goal coming here.”
With guys like Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, and Willie Cauley-Stein coming through the Kentucky program in recent years, it’s obvious Coach Cal loves elite shot blocking talent. Richards said he can step in and be that guy from day one.
“I’m always willing to go outside of my comfort zone, but rebounding and blocking shots have always been second nature to me. If that’s what they need me to do, that’s what I need to do.”
Many people compare Calipari’s newest point guard, Quade Green, to former Wildcat great Tyler Ulis for his ability to be a floor general and lead a team. Richards believes he’s easily one of the best point guards he has ever come in contact with.
“I’ve been catching lobs from Quade in pickup games, and that’s how I get the majority of my (baskets.) He’s definitely one of the best point guards I have played with in my entire basketball career.”
Richards is itching to get out on the court at Rupp Arena for the first time to play for the Big Blue Nation.
“I know it’s going to be crazy and the fans are going to be crazy. I just can’t wait for this season to start.”
He already has one game circled on his calendar this year.
“I’m looking forward to that Louisville game. The rivalry with Louisville is crazy,” Richards said. “One day I went into the barbershop, and they told me a story about this one guy who walked in wearing a Louisville shirt. Everyone in the shop stopped what they were doing, looked at him, and told him to get out.”
Anyone surprised? I didn’t think so.
Needless to say, UK’s newest big man ready to lace up his sneakers and put on a show.
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