By LARRY VAUGHT
Nick Richards’ lack of consistent production has been a problem for Kentucky this season.
The 7-0 freshman center was expected to not only be a defensive presence, but also an inside scoring threat and solid rebounder.
Instead, Richards has averaged 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in 16.2 minutes per game. He’s hitting 61.1 percent from the field even though he’s missed a number of dunks and other close shots.
He has blocked a team-high 32 shots and also has 23 turnovers.
Often he’s been out of position on defense to challenge shots from off the ball or has just got beat one-on-one by his man.
That has made me wonder at times why sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones has not played more. He’s averaging just 13. 3 minutes per game in the 28 games he’s played. He’s shooting 60.3 percent from the field and averaging 3.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
He’s got only 15 blocks — far less than Richards — but he’s also been a more physical, reliable defender. Yet even when Richards struggles, Calipari has been hesitant to go to Killeya-Jones — and that has led to speculation already that the sophomore might transfer after this season. Of course, the same transfer speculation arose after Killeya-Jones’ freshman season. He immediately denied it then and the player or his family have done nothing to indicate that he is considering a transfer now.
So what does he have to do to play more?
“He’s doing fine. He’s doing fine. A lot of times it’s the guy in front of you,” Calipari said. “It has nothing to do with you, you just gotta be ready for an opportunity.
“I think he’s doing fine. He’s way better as a player. But Jarred (Vanderbilt) and PJ (Washington), even Wenyen (Gabriel) when he’s making shots and Nick (Richards) – he’s got guys in front of him that are doing pretty good and deserve minutes, too.”
But doesn’t Killeya-Jones deserve minutes? Calipari has gone out of his way to continue to play Hamidou Diallo despite his struggles. Granted, UK lacks backcourt depth and that makes it more necessary to play Diallo at times.
Plus Calipari has stressed that he won’t throw a player “under the bus” or abandon him when he’s struggling.
Again, no problem with that here.
I don’t see practice. Calipari does. I do see games. I’m not advocating 35 minutes per game for Killeya-Jones, but I don’t buy the theory that Richards is playing so much better that he deserves playing time over Killeya-Jones.
Maybe Killeya-Jones will get his chance to play more at the SEC Tournament. Maybe not.
Either way I’m hoping he’s back next year better than ever — remember he was a McDonald’s All-American — and find a way to convince Calipari that he needs to play more.