By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky Radio Network analyst Mike Pratt thought before the season started that sophomore center Nick Richards could be UK’s most important player this season because of his ability to defend the rim. Despite Richards’ lack of production, Pratt is not ready to give up on Richards even if coach John Calipari has significantly reduced his playing time.
“I still think he can be that guy. I am a Nick guy. I am totally amazed with a 7-footer that can run and jump like that,” Pratt, a former UK All-American, said. “He has all those athletic skills. Makes me wish I had that and what could I do with those skills.
“He just has to get turned around. He is a mystery to the coaching staff. They are spending lots of time with Nick. For some reason, it just is not registering the way they want it to with him. He has gone backwards but doesn’t mean he still can’t be the guy. All he has to do is be active, just play ball. If he can do that on a consistent basis, this team can really good. It takes pressure off others with the way he can be a terrific goalie if he will just do it.”
Unlike some fans, Pratt doesn’t think it is about a lack of effort by Richards, who drifted into no-man’s land the second half of last season. He played well during UK’s exhibition games in the Bahamas, but is now fourth on UK’s four-man interior player rotation.
“He is willing to give the effort. I don’t think he feels comfortable yet. I am not sure he really totally understands the intricacies of how to play yet,” Pratt said. “He is learning. We all make the mistake of looking at that guy with long arms and runs like deer and think why can’t he react.
“But sometimes it is a slow growth process. I hate that because UK needs Nick. His minimum stat sheet in any game to me should be 10 points, seven rebounds, two blocks. If he does that and the coaches feel they can trust him, he will get his minutes.”