By LARRY VAUGHT
No way is Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne going to give up on sophomore center Nick Richards.
Payne works with Kentucky bigs and has touted the need for Richards to be a difference maker for the Cats since the preseason.
Against Kansas, Richards played nine minutes and had just one rebound. However, he did block five shots.
“Could have blocked two more. Got a little tired,” Payne said Monday. “Look, Nick Richards is a unique basketball player in a time where there’s not many 7- footers that can change shots around the basket. We need that from him.
“He has a lot more than his size, a lot more. We’re probably seeing 50 percent of him. We want 110 percent of him. So, it’s a hard deal, but Nick, what he brings to us, even in those eight or nine minutes. Think about five blocks in eight minutes. That’s ridiculous.”
The 7-foot Richards is averaging just 3.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. But he had eight points and seven rebounds in just 10 minutes against Mississippi State last week. He had four points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes against Georgia.
But Richards just cannot consistently be good at any one thing despite having his coaches — and teammates — continuing to explain what a difference his size and athleticism can make.
“Nick Richards, we want him to be able to guard five positions. We want to be able to switch ball screens. We want him to be able to chase a 2-guard off a screen. We want him to be a great post defender. We’re asking a lot from a 7-footer that’s a sophomore in college, but with what his tools are athletically, why not?” Payne said.
Why not indeed because no one will benefit from that more than Richards?
“If he can figure it out, every NBA organization will want Nick Richards. He’ll be playing this game for a long time. That’s the goal. That’s why you come here – to be put in situations that are hard,” Payne said. “If you’re at another program, they stick you under the basket and you never come out. We’re trying to say, ‘OK, you can block this shot and guard a point guard out on the perimeter.’”
But unless Richards rebounds, coach John Calipari won’t play him — and that’s what happened against Kansas. “I think Cal wants Nick to have Reid’s intensity. So when you look at film, when you watch Reid Travis fight for rebounds, fight for offensive rebounds, play with a physicality to the game, and then you watch Nick, who at times does it, but at other times he gets fatigued and he lets go, well, then you’re coming out,” Payne said.
“And he explains to him why you’re coming out. Nick has some dog. We need him to embrace having more dog.”
He might have that “dog” but in the last 11 games he’s not played more than 15 minutes in any game and eight times has played 11 or less minutes going into tonight’s game against Vanderbilt.