By LARRY VAUGHT
What would it take to get freshman center Nick Richards playing the way many expected him to this year instead of struggling to even get meaningful minutes?
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday if Richards would play as hard as freshman teammate Jarred Vanderbilt, that likely would do it.
Calipari said that would make Richards “really good” and could turn him into a top-five draft pick.
“So my question is, why won’t you do that? You know what Jarred said? ‘It’s really hard.’ It’s hard. You don’t have to make a shot. How about the kid (Richards) can shoot, he can make free throws, he’s a good shot blocker,” Calipari said.
“Play as hard as he (Vanderbilt) plays. ‘Well, um, OK.’ And we’re trying, but he’s young. He’s just learning. He’s never been through this. He’s been – like I’m telling him as much as anybody, ‘You’ve got to conquer you first, kid.’ Most of these kids, when they think they are done, they’ve got 40 percent left in the tank. Forty percent.
“But they have convinced themselves their whole life, ‘I’m stopping.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I feel like stopping. I can say whatever – Coach, I can’t go today. My knee just doesn’t good.’ ‘What? OK.’ All that stuff now, you come here, when it’s coming at you like this – you ready for a couple of these, guys? They don’t know if they’re coming or going, especially midseason. Now all of a sudden we’re kicking it in.”
Kentucky plays Florida today at noon. The Cats have won four straight games to get back into the national rankings and can clinch a No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament with a win.
Calipari says the team needs Richards and Sacha Killeya-Jones to both play well but that won’t guarantee additional playing time for either player.
“If Jarred and PJ and even Wenyen, and they’re really playing well, even if Sacha and Nick are playing well, their minutes are probably going to …,” Calipari said. “OK, even if your minutes go down, what are you going to do with your minutes? Are you going to blame somebody? Are you going to have an excuse? Are you going to already build it in? Or are you going to go in on your time and say, ‘No, no, I’m earning more minutes and I’m going to make one of these guys sit.’
“Because if he were playing that way, one of those other guys ain’t getting as many minutes. But I’ve said that to him. Again, you conquer yourself or you’re trying to blame somebody. This stuff is – it’s more than just basketball with what I have to do here with young guys.”