Tyrese Maxey was Kentucky’s leading scorer vs. Louisville, but Nick Richards’ performance was the most promising development for the Cats. The junior big man had 13 points and 10 rebounds vs. the No. 3 Cards, his first double-double against a ranked opponent in his three seasons in Lexington. In 20 games prior against ranked foes, Richards averaged only 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. When you add in a game-high 11 drawn fouls and seven straight points in overtime, Richards more than rose to the occasion and was awarded with Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week and SEC Player of the Week honors, both career firsts.
This afternoon, UK Assistant Coach Tony Barbee said the staff was thrilled with Richards’ performance, which was the culmination of hard work and a shift in mentality.
“We were high-fiving and hugging him is what we were doing. He’s such a beautiful kid. You want him to babysit your kids. He’s that kind of kid. Everybody on campus loves him. But I’ve always said that in this game you’ve got to have an alter ego. When you step on the court you can be whatever you want out on that floor, but it can’t be a nice guy. He decided not to be so nice this last game.”
“He always talks about, he wants me to be the complete opposite of my personality,” Richards said of Barbee. “He wants me to be more aggressive, more physical, meaner, tougher.”
Throughout his career at Kentucky, one of Richards’ biggest issues has been confidence. Barbee was thrilled to see the big man show it not just on offense, but on defense too.
“I keep saying a word – I think with Nick too – it’s been a confidence deal. It’s why he’s more reserved on the court, doesn’t want to step out, to put himself out there because now you’re accountable to do that every day. If we can get that Nick–and it wasn’t us throwing the ball to him every possession. He defended at a high level. He rebounded at a high level. Those offensive rebounds that he got in that game were huge. I think he felt that success which brought out that emotion. With performance comes reward, and we need more big performances like that from him.”
Richards’ other big issue has been consistency. Even this season, he’s disappeared at times, but Barbee has been pleased by what he’s seen in practice this week.
“He’s been good, but we need carryover,” Barbee said. “He’s done it in spots, but to be the kind of player that he wants to be, where he’s trying to take himself to, his game to, where he wants to go in this game, he’s got to be able to do it on an everyday basis. That’s not just game-to-game, that’s practice-to-practice, and that’s what brings it out. This week he’s been great, and I think his confidence is building off of what he did against a really good Louisville team and really good big men he did it against.”
We sent Drew Franklin, President of the Nick Richards Fan Club, to go talk to him at today’s media opp. You can watch their time together below.