By LARRY VAUGHT
Amazing how a few months can make such a difference in a player’s importance to a team — or players’ importance to the team.
When Kentucky was trying to make a Final Four run in March, Nick Richards barely played the final two games and EJ Montgomery really didn’t not make a significant contribution despite playing more than Richards.
Both opted to put their name into the NBA draft — something Richards had not done in 2018 after his freshman season. When they did, most assumed they would both be back. After all, PJ Washington had a far better season as a freshman in 2017-18 than either Richards or Montgomery had this year. He came back for a sophomore season and played himself into a likely lottery pick.
Then rumors started swirling that Richards might be ready to turn pro and just take his chances. Next came word Montgomery’s family was not happy with his lack of playing time and even former UK star Tony Delk, his advisor during the draft evaluation, said he thought Montgomery might stay in the draft.
That left panic for UK fans because with Washington and Reid Travis gone, if Richards and Montgomery didn’t come back the only power forward/center on next year’s roster would be Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina.
But Tuesday Richards said he was coming back for year three — his girlfriend, UK volleyball star Leah Edmond, joked on social media that he was only staying at UK because of her. Then Wednesday about six hours before the deadline to pull his name out of the draft and keep his eligibility, Montgomery did the same.
Now UK has a grad transfer, junior and sophomore in the front line to go with Keion Brooks. It has sophomore guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley back to go with freshmen Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Johnny Juzang and Dontaie Allen.
“Anybody who doesn’t think Kentucky is going to be really good with that roster just doesn’t know basketball,” said one Division I coach I know. “This is the kind of team that Cal will really love coaching and will give him a lot of options.”