It is rare for a five-star high school talent to stick around the University of Kentucky’s basketball program for more than a year. Last season, P.J. Washington made the difficult decision to come back for a sophomore campaign, and his return for another run catapulted him into the NBA Draft lottery. This year, three other former five-star prospects — Ashton Hagans, E.J. Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley — hope to follow Washington’s two-year path from UK to the league.
But three years at UK for a former five-star, McDonald’s All-American? That is extremely rare under John Calipari’s watch. Only Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee made it from burger boy to a third season in Lexington — that is, until now.
Nick Richards, once the No. 2 high school center in the country and a 2017 McDonald’s All-American, will soon be announced on stage at his third Big Blue Madness. Richards is one of only three big men on Kentucky’s 2019-20 roster and the most experienced player in the locker room, so the pressure is on for him to perform in his junior season.
“Obviously, the expectation is this is his time,” Calipari said of his veteran big man, when asked where Richards stands entering Year 3.
“Right now he’s really playing well and he’s playing confident,” Calipari added. “He played against two mooses (that’s not a word, Cal) last year. They could take your confidence away. But he, right now, what he’s doing on the court and how he’s playing, whether he goes against E.J. [Montgomery], whether he goes against Nate [Sestina], scoring around the basket, shooting the ball better, running, he’s in the best shape I’ve seen him in.”
Confidence has always been the key to Richards’ success. Last month during another preseason basketball Q&A, Calipari spoke at length about Richards finding his confidence and how it is so crucial to how well he plays. It seems like Richards is on his way right now, however, we won’t know until he shows some fight in an actual game.
“You got to get on the court, and now you’re playing against a player that’s a football player that’s trying to just say, ‘I know I can’t play you, I’m going to try to rough you up.’ Can you hold your ground?” Calipari wondered. “Can you sustain your confidence in that kind of situation? Until we start playing games, who will know? Now, my hope is he’s ready for it. He’s been here, has a smile on his face, he’s a beautiful kid, he’s one of the nicest people we have had here. There’s no one rooting for him more than me.”
Actually, Cal, I know one person rooting for Nick Richards more than you… because it’s me. And I am ready for Big Nick Energy in 2019-20.
But is Nick ready?
We’ll know soon.