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Five reasons to be excited for Junior Nick Richards

This afternoon, Sophomore Nick Richards officially graduated to Junior Nick Richards, as the 6-foot-11 center announced he would be returning to Kentucky for another season.

“These past two years have been the best of my life,” Richards said in a press release. “It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve learned a lot, but the job’s not done yet. BBN, are you ready for year three?”

We know it’s a big decision for the Wildcats and the layout of the 2019-20 roster, but why?

Here are five reasons why Kentucky fans should be excited about Richard sticking around for another season in Lexington:

It was a necessity

Before we get into the specifics of what Richards brings to the table as a player, the fact of the matter is that Kentucky needed a body in the frontcourt, and they needed one badly.

We’re still waiting on a decision from freshman forward EJ Montgomery, but looking at the roster as it currently stands, they are loaded in the backcourt and incredibly thin up front. Before Richards made his decision today, Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina (6-foot-9) was the only confirmed scholarship player on the roster listed as taller than 6-foot-7.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari has flirted with small-ball lineups as of late, and he certainly has the tools to utilize them a lot more next season with Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. both being solid post threats. Having just one legitimate big man, though, is far too risky going into the year.

If Montgomery leaves for the NBA Draft, Kentucky would still like one more piece to add to the frontcourt, with Kerry Blackshear Jr. being the obvious replacement option. If the Virginia Tech forward stays in the draft, that would leave the UK coaching staff scouring the graduate transfer market (slim pickings) and/or forcing their hand to convince a 2020 prospect or two to reclassify to 2019.

One more piece is certainly doable. Adding two solid contributors this late in the game, though? That’s an awful lot of pressure on the coaching staff.

With Richards now back for a junior campaign, the Cats have a bit of flexibility and far less weight on their shoulders to hit a home run to close out the 2019-20 roster.

Potential for spike in production

As much as Kentucky needed Richards to return from a pure numbers standpoint, it’s also important to factor in that we could see a massive jump in the 6-foot-11 center’s game next season.

Looking at Willie Cauley-Stein’s statistics from his time in Lexington, specifically during his phenomenal junior campaign, the 7-footer managed PER-40 numbers of 13.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per contest. Taking an even deeper look, Cauley-Stein finished with an offensive rating (points scored or produced per 100 possessions) of 119.8 and a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 80.

As for Richards last year, the sophomore big man had PER-40 totals of 13.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 4.2 blocks per game to go with an offensive rating of 123.1 and a defensive rating of 93.4.

Obviously Cauley-Stein was the superior player and was a consensus First-Team All-American and National Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, but Richards is no chopped liver.

When he announced he was returning to school this afternoon, John Calipari said that he believes Richards could be the best big man in the nation.

In fact, he expects it.

“I’m excited to continue to coach Nick because I know how special he can be,” he said. “I’ve told him, ‘If you come back, I’m expecting you to be one of the best big men in the country.’ There is no reason he can’t be. There is nothing that Nick hasn’t seen at this point, and he knows what my expectations are for him in his junior season. I want him to dominate the game and affect it on every single possession.”

With confidence, Richards has proven he can be that dominant player. He’s had point totals of 25, 14, 12, 11, and 10 (five times), rebound totals of 19, 15 (twice), nine (twice), and eight (five times), and has finished with two or more blocks 21 times in two seasons as a Wildcat.

We joked a lot about “Sophomore Nick Richards” last year, but if he can combine his natural gifts as a pure athlete with just a slight bit of confidence in his abilities, the forward out of Kingston, Jamaica can be a high-impact player for Kentucky next season.

Style of play

As mentioned earlier, Coach Cal toyed with small-ball lineups a bit last season, and judging by how he has constructed his roster with long, athletic wings, he’s interested in doing something similar this season. In fact, sources have told KSR that the Kentucky head coach is trying to go back to his four-out Dribble Drive system this season and play in the open floor as much as possible.

Richards is the perfect big man to make that happen.

The current roster is loaded with players that thrive in transition and are comfortable making plays with the ball in their hands. Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Johnny Juzang, Whitney, Brooks Jr., and Dontaie Allen are all stellar at grabbing rebounds and/or loose balls and just taking off. With Sestina having the ability to knock down deep jumpers at a consistent rate, the only obvious hole on the team was a rim running big with the ability to run the floor, catch lobs, and defend the paint.

Richards is that guy.

He was compared to Cauley-Stein as a high school recruit, and unfortunately, we’ve only seen flashes of that in his first two years in Lexington. In his third, the fit is perfect for Richards to finally unlock some of that hidden potential.

Experience

This is an easy point to make, but it’s always an important and valuable one.

In two years, Richards has been to a Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight. He’s had his ups and downs as a player, but he knows what it takes to win basketball games in the SEC and in postseason play.

We’ve seen sophomores like PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel, Isaiah Briscoe, and Tyler Ulis play major roles in recent memory, and we’ve also had graduate transfers such as Reid Travis, Julius Mays, and now Nate Sestina provide guidance as college basketball veterans. That being said, we rarely see third-year players with two full seasons under their belt in Lexington with the ability to provide that much-needed leadership in the locker room. In fact, this is the first time in three years that Kentucky has had a scholarship junior on the roster.

To take it a step further, it’s entirely possible that Kentucky boasts a starting lineup with a true freshman (Maxey, Whitney), sophomore (Hagans), junior (Richards), and senior (Sestina) next season.

Keeping Richards around for another year was huge for team chemistry and overall leadership.

Time for more phenomenal quotes

During his first season at Kentucky, Richards told KSR at UK Media Day that he enjoyed sitting in the dark in his free time. No television, no phone, no distractions, nothing.

“Nick Richards, he loves to sit in the dark. I don’t know why,” former UK point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said in 2017. “A lot of times when I go to his room, he’s just in the dark. His blinds are always down, he just loves the dark. I don’t understand why.”

When asked for his response, the Kentucky center had no rebuttal.

“Yeah, I do,” Richards said. “(I don’t meditate, either), I just… Whenever I’m by myself, I love sitting in the dark. It’s just how I’ve been since I was a little kid. I didn’t really like being around lights that much. I guess that’s a bad habit of mine.”

(Proof is HERE if you don’t believe me)

And then oddly enough, when Drew Franklin asked him about it this past season, Richards acted like he had no idea what he was talking about. Whether he dropped the habit, forgot he ever did it, or just lied, the quote was an absolute gem.

Fast forward to the end of this past season, Richards gave us yet another fascinating quote during the NCAA Tournament that certainly made headlines.

Prior to Kentucky’s Round of 32 matchup with Wofford, the Wildcat big man said the UK frontcourt was simply “better than them overall.”

“It’s a really good advantage for us,” he said. “They’re not really as athletic. … Their bigs are really skilled around the basket, they know how to move on the floor, but we’re just better than them overall, I think, so the advantage is our way, in my opinion.”

Probably wasn’t the best idea to give the Terriers locker room material with the season on the line, but it was priceless either way.

Hopefully a confidence boost this offseason will provide more great quotes and even better on-court performances.

Welcome back, Sophomore Junior Nick Richards.

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Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

21 Comments for Five reasons to be excited for Junior Nick Richards



  1. JT55
    9:36 pm May 28, 2019 Permalink

    I’m happy for Nick. Not sure where the big will come from if Blackshear stays in as expected.



  2. N-UR-i
    10:25 pm May 28, 2019 Permalink

    He will have a longer leash next year. That is what he needs to take the next step.



    • dave1964
      9:17 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

      Lol to anything exciting about Richards return he can do two things block shots sometimes and foul out ONLY thing to be happy with his return there is no other option. Tired of hearing oh he will have a breakout year we are screwed at centet



    • runningunnin.454
      9:37 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

      He appreciates your support, dave. Nice punctuation, too.



    • Tom Bombadil
      1:02 pm May 29, 2019 Permalink

      Dave the dipshit! You sure are a piece of work . Welcome back Nick! I can see big things happening for you and Kentucky next season! Nick will be better,stronger and faster. All at 7 feet! Yes sir! Nick congratulations big fella!! Go big blue! Go Nick! Let’s bring home #9



  3. gobble gobble
    11:27 pm May 28, 2019 Permalink

    Didn’t realize Nick’s real first name is Junior



  4. Underdog
    11:52 pm May 28, 2019 Permalink

    The Wofford comments were not priceless but very unwise. Almost costs us the game. Psychological advantages or disadvantages like that are very hard to come by, and Nick almost screwed up that game all by himself before the game even tipped off.

    That being said, I’m glad he’s back. I trust he will improve immensely. I do think he might want to spend time meditating in the dark, and visualizing him playing smart basketball.

    If he could stay on the court 25 minutes a game, I could see his production being much much better, and if he figures out the game watch out, he could be a first or second team All SEC.



    • blueballs80
      11:58 pm May 28, 2019 Permalink

      This website seriously needs an IT upgrade for comments. I can’t log in unless I comment on someones post. Anyhoo, Nick Richards is nowhere close to WCS . I am glad he returned but his fundamentals on offense and defense still needs improvement. He is going to have to seriously buckle up and improve his game and be a rebounding machine.



    • syrin23
      12:06 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

      I disagree. If you aren’t motivated to play at your FULLEST in an NCAA tourney game, then you might as well pack up and go home. I have never seen a game won or lost because of some pre-game comment some player or coach made. NEVER!



    • CATandMONKEY
      5:11 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

      The Wofford comments didn’t cost us nor “almost” cost us even a dime.

      It was a legit evaluation. Not an emotional, arrogant tirade.



  5. zoupman
    6:18 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

    Coming back to UK was the right decision. Now work hard, listen to the coaches and get better.



    • AppreciateTheCall
      9:22 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

      Welcome back big fella! Looking forward to having a guy willing to come back for his Junior season. Continuity is key!



    • Luether
      8:31 pm May 29, 2019 Permalink

      Persistence and determination are omnipotent…



  6. dave1964
    9:21 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

    Yea he brings five fouls nothing more.



    • Tom Bombadil
      1:07 pm May 29, 2019 Permalink

      I present to you -The one and only Douchebag Dave the dipshit!



  7. ClutchCargo
    9:47 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

    Glad to have him back!



  8. Fitz
    10:17 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

    very good analysis. I was hoping he would make the prudent decision and return to UK. Now that he has. Cal needs to use him effectively, and “Junior” needs to convince the NBA he can play at that level. If both do what they need to do, it could’ve one helluva season for the Cats!



  9. makeitstop
    10:34 am May 29, 2019 Permalink

    Glad to see him back – you can go small ball sometimes but not all the time, and some matchups just wouldn’t favor us. SEC coaches and players are getting better and better, and u can’t hide a donut hole forever. Ask the Ulis/Murray team. Not having a true center is a ticking time bomb and as we saw this year, sometimes guys get hurt. Nick can be very good, but he will definitely be very valuable.



  10. UKfanman01
    12:16 pm May 29, 2019 Permalink

    Nick Richards desperately needs to work on dribbling. He has no ball handling abilities. If he practices a ton, he could become a scary player. He could be mobile. It would open shots, open the floor.



    • Luether
      8:32 pm May 29, 2019 Permalink

      Remember that Richards hasn’t been playing basketball for that long. He’s got a lot of potential…